Problem with copter alleged
The report leads the Heli USA CEO to lash out against lawyers
A California aviation attorney alleged that the Heli USA A-Star helicopter that crashed at Princeville Airport on Kauai last week had experienced "hydraulic issues" a few days before the crash, based on an unconfirmed report.
Mike Danko, an aviation attorney from San Mateo, Calif., who is representing the O'Donnell and Scholtz families -- victims in the crash -- said he had received other unconfirmed reports from witnesses that pilot Joe Sulak had experienced hydraulic failure in another A-Star helicopter that resulted in an accident.
"That failure was determined to be the result in part of faulty maintenance on the operator's part," Danko said yesterday in a news conference at the Hawaii Prince Hotel.
A Heli USA official said there had never been such problems with the crashed helicopter or one piloted earlier by Sulak.
Danko said there had been numerous reports of hydraulic failures in A-Star helicopters over the past 10 to 15 years. Nigel Turner, chief executive officer of Heli USA Airways, said yesterday that his chief mechanic reported they "never had a problem with that aircraft."
As for whether Sulak had ever had a problem with hydraulic failure, Turner said, "Sure. When he was shot down over Vietnam three times, he had some hydraulic problems."
But never any hydraulic trouble with Heli USA, he added.
He also lashed out at "ambulance-chasing lawyers" getting involved only a week after the crash and possibly hampering the investigation.
"Now is not the time for contingency lawyers," he said.
He added that "the last thing we need are lawyers trying to make money interfering with the investigation," and that it is "inappropriate for lawyers going on" television and making unsubstantiated statements.
His friend Sulak, he added, was an important part of the community, as is the company. "Only a year ago, when the dam broke, Joe was flying people back and forth," many for free, he added.
Brian Rayner, lead investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, said the Kauai portion of the Heli USA crash was completed yesterday. But follow-up interviews and testing of engine parts still need to be completed and could take months, he added.
Parts from the downed chopper have arrived at the NTSB lab in Washington, D.C., where they are being cataloged and will be tested, he said. A preliminary report will likely be completed within two weeks, but the final report, which identifies the cause, can take more than a year.