Pilots' errors caused 2 Kauai copter crashes
The safety board calls for special training for Hawaii terrain, plus improved oversight
LIHUE » Inexperienced pilots' errors in hazardous weather conditions caused two helicopter crashes nearly a year apart in 2004 and 2005 on Kauai, killing eight people, the National Transportation Safety Board said yesterday. They are not the first crashes for inexperienced pilots, the NTSB said. Of the eight weather-related accidents that have occurred in the state since 1994, four have involved pilots new to the state, the NTSB reported.
The NTSB meeting yesterday in Washington, D.C., faulted the Honolulu office of the Federal Aviation Administration for lack of oversight as a factor in the 2004 crash. It cited FAA regulations that weren't updated to require flotation devices on helicopters as worsening the effect of the other crash.
In the 2005 crash, flotation devices might have saved the lives of three victims, the NTSB said.
Saying that Hawaii's changing weather can cause problems for tour helicopter pilots, the NTSB also recommended a training program for new pilots.
The NTSB investigations concluded that both pilots, who had flown tours on Kauai for less than two months, flew into weather situations that were dangerous.
In the September 2005 crash, Heli USA pilot Glen Lampton had been flying on Kauai for only six or seven weeks when he flew into a thunderstorm off Kauai's north shore.
Lampton and two passengers survived, but three others drowned after the helicopter sank near Kailiu Point near Haena.
COURTESY KITV NEWS4
A Bali Hai Helicopter Tours aircraft crashed Sept. 24, 2004, near Mount Waialaele on Kauai, killing all five people aboard.
DETAILS OF THE 2004 BALI HAI CRASH
A Bali Hai Helicopter Tours craft crashes in mountainous central Kauai, killing all five aboard.
Sept. 24, 2004
Pilot Shankar Tummala, 39, who had moved to Kauai from Michigan; newlyweds Thomas Huemmer, 36, and Tamara Zytkowski, 30, of Avon, Ohio; and Willy Braun, 59, and Heike Braun, 38, of Germany.
Type of aircraft:
Cause of crash:
"The pilot's decision to continue flight into an area of turbulent, reduced-visibility weather conditions, which resulted in the pilot's spatial disorientation and loss of control of the helicopter," according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
Lampton, 45, was indicted on charges of manslaughter and lying to investigators, but those charges were dismissed in December after misleading evidence was accidentally presented to the grand jury. Prosecutors, who said in December that they expected to re-indict Lampton, did not return a call for comment.
Lampton said he flew into a heavy thunderstorm only to avoid another helicopter. Other helicopter pilots in the area and his passengers disputed his account.
His lawyer, Sam King, said Lampton has been cleared by the FAA of flying recklessly and that the suspension of his license has been lifted.
Heli USA President Nigel Turner said in a news release that the severe weather built up quickly, and that the Las Vegas-based company has had no other serious accidents in its operations over Hawaii, the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas.
Their Kauai helicopters, Turner added, have been fitted with flotation devices, although not required by the FAA.
The report said the NTSB requested last week that new FAA rules require flotation devices. "Lives might have been spared if the helicopter had flotation equipment," said NTSB Chairman Mark V. Rosenker. "I am disappointed that the rule-making process once again has moved so slowly and that the final result still leaves open a real safety gap."
In September 2004, 39-year-old Sankar Tummala, a father of two, had flown for the now-defunct Bali Hai Helicopters for less than two months when he lost control of the helicopter in reduced visibility over the mountains of central Kauai.
Tummala and his four passengers were killed.
The cause of the crash was "the pilot's decision to continue flight into an area of turbulent, reduced-visibility weather conditions, which resulted in the pilot's spatial disorientation and loss of control of the helicopter," according to the NTSB report.
DENNIS FUJIMOTO / THE GARDEN ISLAND VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS
Wreckage of a Heli USA Airways copter was recovered after the craft went into the ocean off Kauai's North Shore on Sept. 23, 2005. Three died, and three survived.
DETAILS OF THE 2005 HELI USA CRASH
Heli USA Airways Inc. craft crashes into the ocean off Haena on Kauai's north shore; two people drown and one dies of a heart attack from near-drowning; three survive, including the pilot, with minor injuries.
Sept. 23, 2005
Best friends Mary Soucy, 62, and Catherine Baron, 68, of Portland, Maine; and Laverne Clifton, 69, of Beloit, Wis.
Clifton's daughter Karen Clifton, her husband, Bill Thorson, and pilot Glen Lampton, 45.
Type of aircraft:
Cause of crash:
"The pilot's decision to continue flight into adverse weather conditions, which resulted in a loss of control due to an encounter with a microburst," said the NTSB.
Tummala, who was trained as a flight instructor and trainer, had flown for the Indian Air Force for 17 years before moving to the United States, according to an aviation Web site where his resume was posted.
The NTSB report concluded that tours on Kauai and throughout the state are a challenge due to mountain winds, steep and wildly changing terrain and weather conditions that can change by the minute.
The NTSB recommended that the FAA require training programs for pilots new to the islands that specifically address local weather and in-flight decision making, NTSB officials said.
The agency also recommended installing flight-tracking and onboard weather technology for Hawaii air tour aircraft and that the local FAA office do a better job policing local tour companies.
The NTSB noted that Tummala was on his seventh flight of the day without lunch or a bathroom break. It also found "significant discrepancies with aircraft maintenance procedures and logbooks," officials said.
Bali Hai had never received an FAA operations inspection, the report said, as it was not required by current FAA regulations.
"Bali Hai's operational practices were cited as a contributing cause" to the crash, since they "likely had an adverse impact on pilot decision-making and performance," the report said.
"The air tour industry in Hawaii serves hundreds of thousands of paying passengers each year and the public deserves an appropriate level of safety when they embark on an air tour," Rosenker said in a statement.
Charles Crumpton, a lawyer for Bali Hai, said the family-run business never had even a workers' compensation injury in more than a decade of operation. While record-keeping was suspect at the company, the "helicopters were in fully proper operating condition and maintenance."
He added that Tummala's seven flights that day was atypical of the small company.