Maui tour helicopter crash-lands
The passengers pull the hurt pilot from the wreckage and phone for help from a treetop
A couple celebrating their wedding anniversary on Maui endured a harrowing end to their sightseeing trip when their helicopter dropped about 1,500 feet in seconds and crashed after its engine quit.
The pilot of the Maui-based Sunshine Helicopters Inc. suffered a broken leg, but his four passengers were not seriously injured in the crash on the slopes of Maui's Haleakala.
"It's just a miracle," said Barry Coffee, a Birmingham, Ala., resident who was celebrating his 15th wedding anniversary with a trip to Hawaii.
Coffee said the group was making an around-the-island tour when the helicopter's engine quit, and it hit the ground nose first. The doors flew open after the impact and he got out, along with his wife and the other couple.
But the pilot's leg was pinned, and Coffee and the others helped to get him out of the smashed cockpit. Coffee said he was aware, as an amateur airplane pilot, that it's not just the crash that kills people -- but fire afterward, so they worked as quickly as possible.
He said the helicopter radio wasn't working and his cell phone had no reception.
Coffee said he borrowed the pilot's telephone and climbed to the top of a tree and was able to call 911 for help at about 8:47 a.m.
Ross Scott, owner of the Kahului-based tour company, said a description from one of the passengers "probably suggests that it was some kind of engine failure, but we won't know for sure until further investigation."
Scott confirmed his pilot had suffered a serious leg or foot injury.
"We've never had a fatality, but this is, frankly, the closest we have ever come," Scott said several hours after the five had been taken by medical ambulance to Maui Memorial Hospital.
"The pilot did an excellent job in a pretty rugged area," said Scott, who declined to identify the pilot until more family members have been notified.
This is the second helicopter incident in less than a week on Maui.
On Thursday, a Blue Hawaiian Helicopters pilot reported engine failure, forcing him to make a landing in Honokohau Valley. None of the six people aboard was seriously injured.
Scott said the weather was relatively clear, with some wind "but nothing hazardous" when the morning tour took off from Kahului Airport toward Haleakala.
About 40 minutes into the flight, as the chopper neared Manawainui Gulch on the south side of the mountain, it crash-landed somewhere between the 3,000- and 3,500-foot level.
In addition to Maui County fire-rescue crews and the U.S. Coast Guard, another Sunshine helicopter and a medical helicopter aided in the evacuation.
The National Transportation Safety Board is expected to investigate the incident. Scott said the helicopter had been recovered from the crash site and that his staff and insurance representatives would examine the wreckage. He declined to describe damage to the craft.
Sunshine, which has been in operation about 20 years and employs 12 pilots, has had no fatal crashes or serious injuries.
According to NTSB accident reports, Sunshine had three relatively minor accidents in recent years with no serious injuries.