Joe Sulak, tour helicopter pilot, was one of the people who died yesterday in a crash on Kauai. Sulak's Web site states that he had flown since the Vietnam War. CLICK FOR LARGE
Workers race to pull accident victims out
Seven in a Kauai tour helicopter are extracted from the smoking wreckage
PRINCEVILLE, Kauai » There was no fire aboard the Heli USA A-Star helicopter that crashed, but there was some smoke, and the grinding of metal as it hit the pavement, eyewitnesses said yesterday.
Still, four workers at the Princeville Airport, three of them Heli USA employees, raced to the scene to pull out the seven victims.
The A-Star Helicopter, with the front of the cockpit crushed and listing to its left as it sat on its floatation devices, was pretty much intact, said one of the four rescuers, an employee of Avis Rent-a-Car who asked not to be identified.
"It was crushed and kind of bent," he said, as if the craft had hit the ground and the rotors continued to spin it around.
The seven victims were badly injured as the four men pulled them from their seat belts.
One woman was conscious and asking for her husband, the Princeville resident said, but there was nothing they could do.
"I never saw a bomb go off," but this is what it would be like, he said, visibly shaken.
"I feel for the husband and his wife," he added.
After firefighters arrived, they moved the four rescuers away from the area, fearing an explosion, the man said. He returned to finish his work for the day.
He added that he felt bad for the employees of Heli USA, which had rebounded from a 2005 fatal crash off Haena Point.
According to Heli USA, the pilot, whom police have identified as Joe Sulak, known as "Helicopter Joe," was an experienced pilot.
He radioed a few minutes before the crash that he had experienced hydraulic failure.
It was just minutes from its scheduled landing, said Nigel Turner, chief executive of Las Vegas-based Heli USA.
"We are in the process of notifying the families of those individuals involved, and our sincere condolences goes out at this time," Turner said. "We are working with authorities to find out exactly what happened."
Investigators from the Seattle office of the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration will arrive on Kauai tomorrow to start their investigation, NTSB officials said.
"The company has flown over a million passengers. This is our second accident in a million people," Turner said, adding that he would not hesitate to put his own family in his helicopters.
At the scene, dozens of onlookers stopped on the side of Kuhio Highway to get information about the accident.
Witnesses said they heard the large noise from Anini, about a half-mile away. Before police chased people out of the parking lots, residents came to stop and watch, some even deciding to break out a beer or two.
Weather did not appear to be an issue, with clear skies and a south breeze recorded at the airport at under 10 mph.
Maintenance records for the helicopter were not available last night, said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor.
FAA records show the A-Star 350BA helicopter involved in the crash was built in 1979 and had a current standard airworthiness certificate issued in 1994.
The Princeville Airport, which is privately owned and operated, was closed after the crash and will remain closed this morning, said state Department of Transportation spokesman Scott Ishikawa.
Star-Bulletin reporter Craig Gima and the Associated Press contributed to this report.