STAR-BULLETIN / 2005
A Heli USA airways helicopter that crashed on Kauai sits in a Lihue Airport hangar as NTSB and FAA officials look over the craft for structural or mechanical problems. There was no evidence of either, according to the NTSB. CLICK FOR LARGE
Tour company suffers share of setbacks
Heli USA has seen four crashes, two fatal, in five years
Yesterday's helicopter crash was the second fatal crash in two years for Heli USA on Kauai.
In September 2005 a Heli USA chopper flew into a thunderstorm off Kauai's North Shore and crashed into the ocean. Three people drowned, and pilot Glen Lampton and two other passengers survived.
Heli USA helicopters were also involved in two other nonfatal incidents on the mainland, one of which involved hydraulic failure, according to National Transportation Safety Board records. An FAA spokesman said that the pilot in yesterday's crash reported hydraulics problems before the accident.
On Sept. 11, 2002, a Heli USA A-Star 350BA crashed while making a precautionary landing at the Grand Canyon West Airport after a hydraulic system failure. The helicopter was on a tour flight carrying six passengers en route back to Las Vegas.
PAST HELICOPTER DISASTERS
Hawaii helicopter crashes since 1991 that resulted in fatalities:
» Dec. 25: The 20-year-old son of the owner of Inter-Island Helicopters died when a McDonnell Douglas MD369FF helicopter crashed into De Mello Reservoir near Lihue while filling a bucket of water to fight a brush fire.
» Sept. 23: A Heli-USA A-Star 350BA crash-landed and sank in the ocean near Haena, Kauai, after the pilot flew into a thunderstorm. Three people died and three were injured on the sightseeing flight.
» Sept. 24: A Bali Hai Helicopter Tours Bell 206B Jet Ranger crashed in mountainous terrain near Kalaheo while on a sightseeing flight. Five people died.
» July 23: Five people died when a Bell 206B Jet Ranger helicopter operated by Jack Harter Helicopters crashed into Mount Waialeale during a sightseeing tour.
» June 15: A McDonnell Douglas 369D helicopter crashed and burned in a lava field in Volcanoes National Park, killing four people. The Paradise Tour Helicopters aircraft was on a 45-minute lava viewing tour.
» May 22: A crash on Kahoolawe killed the pilot of a Bell UH-1H helicopter owned by Pacific Helicopter Tours Inc. of Maui when a load cable became entangled in the tail rotor. The pilot had just dropped off a 3,000-pound fuel pod.
» July 21: A Blue Hawaiian Helicopters Aerospatiale AS 355 crashed on a tour flight in the Iao Valley on Maui. The pilot and six passengers died.
» June 25: Six people were killed when an Aerostar 350 BA owned by Ohana Helicopters crashed near the rim of Kauai's Waialeale Crater.
>> May 18: The pilot died when a Bell 206B owned by Kenai Helicopters crashed in Hilo on the Big Island.
» May 10: Two died when a Hughes 369D of Imua Air Service crashed in Puako on the Big Island.
» April 16: A Duff Mini-500 home-built experimental helicopter crashed near Lihue, killing a student pilot.
» July 21: A Honolulu Fire Department pilot and two Honolulu Police Department officers died while searching for a hiker at Sacred Falls in Hauula on Oahu. The McDonnell Douglas 369D was a Fire Department rescue helicopter.
» July 14: An Aerospatiale AS350D helicopter owned by Papillon Hawaiian Helicopters crashed off the Na Pali Coast on Kauai during a tour. Three of the seven passengers died.
» April 18: One person died and four people were seriously injured when an Inter-Island Helicopters Hughes 369D helicopter on a sightseeing tour lost power and crashed below Manawaupuna Falls near Hanapepe, Kauai.
» Aug. 10: A 46-year-old Hawaii Kai pilot and his 40-year-old wife died in the crash of his two-seat helicopter off Diamond Head.
>> July 8: A 40-year-old Australian student pilot died in the crash of a Robinson R-22 at the Reef Runway of Honolulu Airport.
» Jan. 25: A Kainoa Aviation tour helicopter crashed in the ocean near Kamoamoa on the Big Island, killing four passengers, including Wang Yu-ling, a Taiwanese actress.
» Sept. 16: The pilot and six tourists died in a crash at the 3,000-foot elevation on the south side of Haleakala on Maui. Other pilots reported heavy clouds and a thunderstorm when the Hawaii Helicopters Aerospatiale AS350B went down.
» Aug. 13: A federal Drug Enforcement Administration pilot on a marijuana eradication mission was killed when his helicopter caught fire during a hard landing at the Honokaa plantation airstrip. Three passengers were injured.
During the landing, the helicopter started to spin, and the main rotor blades cut off the tail boom during impact. One person was injured in the crash.
The NTSB report found the pilot did not follow proper emergency procedures, and cited inadequate maintenance for the hydraulic failure.
Another Heli USA crash on Feb. 19, 2004, in Las Vegas was blamed on the improper installation of a tail rotor pitch change lever. In that incident the helicopter lost tail rotor control, but the aircraft landed safely and there were no injuries.
In response to the 2005 Heli USA accident on Kauai, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended last month that all tour helicopters that fly over water be equipped with fixed or inflatable floats after the Heli USA crash on Kauai.
The safety rule does not take effect until August.
The FAA, responding in part to crashes in Hawaii and Alaska, also announced new safety standards for air tour companies. The agency also promised to closely monitor deaths and other accidents involving air tours after looking into 107 accidents that killed 98 people between 1988 and 1995.
In a letter to the FAA, NTSB Chairman Mark V. Rosenker made several other recommendations specifically addressing Hawaii's tour helicopter industry. They included requiring a pilot training program that specifically addresses local weather and heightened surveillance of commercial air tour operators.
An NTSB review of eight weather-related tour helicopter crashes in Hawaii since 1994 found half of the pilots were "relatively new" to flying in the state, with three operating for less than two months. They were also inexperienced in assessing local weather conditions, which change rapidly.
In the September 2005 crash, Lampton had been flying on Kauai for only six or seven weeks when he flew into a thunderstorm off Kauai's North Shore.
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.
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.
In a response to the NTSB report over the 2005 crash, Heli USA issued a press release noting that that company installed inflatable floats on its helicopters, even though they are still not required.
According to the news release, Heli USA owns and operates 12 A-Star helicopters and has about 150 employees in Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Kauai and Oahu.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.