Sunday, September 25, 2005

Navy Chief Petty Officer Jim Rogers, Petty Officer Randy Watts, Lt. Cmdr. Allen Aber and Lt. j.g. Tom Burke helped rescue survivors from a helicopter crash Friday off Kauai. They were the first rescuers on scene.

Wreckage recovery planned

The NTSB begins its investigation
of the fatal crash of a tour helicopter
in waters off Kauai

HAENA, Kauai » National Transportation Safety Board investigators will attempt today to recover a Heli USA tour helicopter that crashed into the ocean off Kauai's north shore, killing three people, officials said.

Six people -- three men, including the pilot, and three women -- were aboard the A-Star 350 helicopter when it went down Friday off Haena. The pilot and a tourist couple survived the crash.

According to the NTSB, two of the people who died were women who were not related, and the third victim was a man related to those who survived. The passengers, as yet unidentified, were tourists, Kauai county officials said. Autopsies are scheduled for tomorrow.

NTSB investigator Nicole Charnon said yesterday that she was able to interview the pilot and the surviving couple, as well as the lifeguards who helped get them to the beach.

"Physically, they're doing well," she said.

The pilot indicated he encountered wind sheer before he went down, according to state Department of Transportation spokesman Scott Ishikawa.


A Navy helicopter crew, which pulled two victims out of the water, said that it was rainy and windy when they arrived, making rescue efforts more difficult.

"There was a squall line coming through," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Allen Aber. "Visibility was low."

When they arrived, only debris and a small portion of the downed craft could be seen in the water. Two people were floating in the water and three others were swimming toward shore with the assistance of surfers, the Navy fliers said.

In the helicopter, the team performed cardio-pulmonary resuscitation on the victims, but got no response.

The Kaneohe-based crew had been training on Kauai for about a week when they got a call to help look for survivors. They returned to Oahu yesterday.

The Coast Guard recovered a third body.

What is left of the helicopter is sitting in about 25 to 30 feet of water near the mouth of Limahuli Stream between Kee Beach and Haena Beach. Charnon added that it's well-marked and there is "decent" water visibility in the area.

Once the wreckage of the helicopter is recovered, it will likely be transported via helicopter to Hanalei and then moved by truck to a secure location at Lihue Airport, Charnon said.

The six people on the helicopter tour left Lihue Airport just before 2 p.m. Friday, said Ishikawa.

According to the Heli USA Web site, the Las Vegas-based company offers only one tour from Lihue -- the "Kauai Deluxe Island Kamaaina Helicopter Tour," a 45-minute trip over waterfalls, Waimea Canyon, Kalalau Valley and other Kauai landmarks.

If the tour was following the normal route, it had just finished touring Kalalau Valley and was moving towards Hanalei Valley when it crashed at around 2:41 p.m.

Jeff Power, Heli USA vice president of marketing, said via e-mail yesterday that the company was "in the process of working with the local authorities to notify the families of all passengers involved and we are doing everything we can to assist them."

Heli USA suspended its operations on Kauai yesterday, Power said, "out of respect for the passengers."

But all other helicopter tour companies on Kauai were operating, and none reported any problems Friday.

Star-Bulletin reporter Mary Vorsino and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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