Pilot knew of hydraulic problem
An early report on a Kauai crash points at two potential faults
LIHUE » Heli USA pilot Joe Sulak reported experiencing a worsening hydraulic problem before he crashed at Princeville Airport on March 8, a preliminary federal report said yesterday.
Sulak, a pilot with 30 years of experience, first told the dispatcher that he was experiencing "hydraulic problems" and then "hydraulic failure" and that he was going to try an emergency landing.
"OK, we're done," were his last words over the radio, the dispatcher told investigators.
Sulak, along with three others, died in the crash. Two others remain at the Queen's Medical Center.
The preliminary report, released yesterday by investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board, also pointed to two possible problems with the hydraulic system in the AS 350.
But the company's owner said it is too early to come to conclusions on the cause of the crash.
Investigators found that the hydraulic sight glass was broken and seeping. The sight glass allows the pilot or mechanics to look into the hydraulic fluid tank. The report did not say whether it was broken before or after impact. But it did say that the hydraulic reservoir was full at the time of examination.
They also found that one of the servos was still attached to the transmission but not to the rest of the hydraulic system. Servos are the portion of the hydraulic system that boosts the pilot's controls, using the power generated by the hydraulic pump, and connects to the controls of the rotor mechanisms.
A portion of the left lateral servo was not connected to the hydraulic system, but did not appear damaged by the crash, the report indicated.
The threads of the servo and on the transmission were not stripped, and the parts were able to rotate properly, the report continued.
The investigation continues, and all parts of the hydraulic system have been moved to laboratories to undergo further testing.
Nigel Turner, chief executive of Heli USA Airways, said the report "is too preliminary" to make a determination whether the two parts caused the crash.
"It's too early to know for sure," he said, adding that he is confident the team assembled will investigate the crash extremely thoroughly, and has confidence in their abilities and their professionalism.
NTSB lead investigator Brian Rayner said last week, while he was on Kauai, that the preliminary report would make no determination into the cause of the crash. A final report will be released by the Transportation Board and could take a year or more.
Sulak, of Princeville, died in the crash, as well as passengers John O'Donnell of East Rockaway, N.Y., Teri McCarty of Cabot, Ark., and Magreit Inglebrecht of Santa Maria, Calif.
O'Donnell's wife, Veronica, and McCarty's husband, James, remain at the Queen's Medical Center, while Inglebrecht's husband, Cornelius Scholtz, has been discharged from the hospital.
Heli USA resumed helicopter sightseeing flights from Princeville Airport yesterday, Turner said. The company wanted to give its employees enough time to grieve and be ready to accommodate its passengers, he added.