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Monday, July 28, 2003



Sightseers undeterred
by recent helicopter crashes

Tour operators expect only
a slight decrease in business
following a pair of fatal wrecks


LIHUE, Hawaii » Despite two helicopter crashes that claimed the lives of nine people in Hawaii this summer, Kim Martin only had one thought as her sightseeing flight over Kauai ended Friday afternoon: Do it again.

The 25-year-old nurse from Philadelphia, on her honeymoon with her husband, Brian, was as transfixed as thousands of other tourists who fly over the Garden Island's incredible canyons, gushing waterfalls and steep sea cliffs.

And the latest fatal crash Wednesday could not deter her from experiencing it.

"If we were here, we'd do it again," said Martin. "It was phenomenal," her new husband added.

The accident last week on Mount Waialeale on Kauai killed five. It came about six weeks after a June 15 crash on Kilauea volcano on the Big Island that left four dead. Both crashes are under investigation by federal authorities.

Tour operators expected the Kauai crash to increase cancellations and slightly slow bookings on helicopter tours, but it was not anticipated the tragedy would have a lasting negative impact.

"Some people cancel. They don't want to go," said Keone Garma, general manager of Will Squyres Helicopter Tours in Lihue. "But the majority, they want to go."

After Jack Harter Helicopters' Bell 206B Jet Ranger crashed into the Waialeale Crater on Wednesday, some of Kauai's 10 chopper tour companies suspended their flights to assist in the search or simply as a sign of respect.

But even that day, reservations for the flights continued to be made.

"I was blown away that people still wanted to go," said Garma.

On Thursday, as the orange body bags of victims were unloaded from helicopters not far down the road, tourists continued to stream aboard the hour-long flights.

"It's like when you hear about a car crash," said Kevin Glynn, 51, of Plymouth, Mass., who took a tour Thursday, in the midst of a trip marking his 25th wedding anniversary. "You don't not drive."

Such laid-back reaction has those in the helicopter tour industry on Kauai confident demand for their rides will remain high. There are more than 100 takeoffs each day, on average, from Kauai alone.

"By and large, it's just going to be business as usual for us," said Sam Kitsch, a senior reservationist with Air Kauai Helicopter Tours.

Around the country, helicopter tours entice visitors to a number of locations, allowing a bird's-eye view of Alaska's glacial ice fields, the Statue of Liberty and New York skyline, the Grand Canyon and Hollywood landmarks.

In Hawaii, operations are set up throughout the islands, offering rides above rain forests, sea cliffs and an erupting volcano. The flights are particularly popular on Kauai, where some of its most spectacular sights are best -- and most easily -- seen by air.

The highlight for many of the flights over Kauai is the towering Waialeale Crater, where investigators continued yesterday to retrieve the wreckage of Wednesday's crash. The victims of Wednesday's crash are Jeffrey and Monica Peterson, both 33, of Denver; Edward Wadiak, 55, and his wife, Teresa, 53, of Manassas, Va.; and their pilot, 44-year-old Mark Lundgren, of Puhi, Kauai. Last month, York, Pa., residents Jody Laughman, Nicole Laughman and James Thomas died along with pilot Russell Holliday in the Big Island crash.

On a wet day, a chopper entering the crater offers views of a never-never land of lush, tropical greenery and as many as 100 waterfalls.

Despite ticket prices averaging $130 to $180, such flights are considered a must-do by many tourists.

"It's probably the most popular thing to do on Kauai," said Garma, who took his first helicopter tour 11 years ago when he started work at Will Squyres. The lifelong Kauai resident saw places he never knew existed on his own island.

"It would take you months to hike and boat and see all this," said Kitsch. "This one-hour helicopter tour is like a miracle."

And if the awe-struck faces of passengers coming off Kauai's tour helicopters is any indication, Kitsch is right.

"Coming all this way," said Craig Bennett, 46, of Bloomsberg, Pa., "you might as well do it at least once while you're here."


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More pieces of tour
helicopter recovered


The larger pieces of a tour helicopter that crashed into a Kauai mountainside last week were recovered yesterday, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Lead investigator Wayne Pollack said the chopper's engine, transmission, cockpit, instruments, main rotor blade and fuselage were brought down from the crash site, at about the 4,500-foot level of Mount Waialeale.

Pollack said investigators will conduct a detailed structural examination today of the aircraft's frame and engine components, in hopes of finding the cause of the accident that killed all five on board.

On Wednesday the Jack Harter Helicopters' Bell 206B Jet Ranger slammed into the side of Mount Waialeale, known as the wettest spot on earth. Killed in the crash were pilot Mark Lundgren, 44, of Puhi, Kauai; Edward Wadiak, 55, and his wife, Teresa, 53, of Virginia; and Monica and Jeffrey Peterson, both 33, of Colorado.

Monica Peterson survived the crash but later died after weather conditions prevented rescuers from pulling her off the mountain.

NTSB investigators will also interview people today who were flying at about the time the chopper was reported missing, shortly after 9 a.m., and review records of the helicopter components and documents concerning weather conditions, Pollack said.

The National Weather Service had reported Kauai weather was fair Wednesday with scattered clouds and winds up to 20 mph.

The helicopter was found split in half, its cabin separated from the tail.

Smaller pieces of the wreckage were recovered Saturday, including the helicopter's undercarriage, skid assembly, tail cone and rudder, as well as personal effects, documents and charts.

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