Faulty engine part blamed in fatal ’03 helicopter crash
HILO » A faulty engine part caused the June 15, 2003, crash of a Tropical Helicopters aircraft in a lava field of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, killing the pilot and three passengers, the National Transportation Safety Board determined.
Another pilot in the area heard Tropical pilot Russell Holliday radio, "Mayday, mayday, mayday," and heard him say, "Engine out," an NTSB report released this week says.
Besides Holliday, passengers James Thomas; his wife, Jody Laughman; and her daughter Nicole Laughman, all of Lake Meade, Pa., died in the 9:35 a.m. crash.
The reason for the "engine out" was a broken part that allowed an air compressor at the front of the jetlike turbine engine on the McDonnell Douglas 369D to separate from the turbine, the report says.
The part that broke was a replacement for a standard part, the report says. The replacement, manufactured by Extex Ltd., was not* authorized by engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce. Inspection showed later that the replacement did not fit properly, allowing metal wear that led to breakage.
Rolls-Royce records show the part was involved in cracks or fractures in 12 other helicopters, the NTSB said.
Relatives of the crash victims sued Rolls-Royce and Extex. Just before a trial was to start in federal court in Honolulu last year, a settlement was reached.
The settlement was confirmed by the office of attorney Terry O'Reilly of San Mateo, Calif., who represented Holliday's family, but no details were released.
The NTSB report noted that a helicopter without power has some ability to glide to a landing. But there was no suitable place to land in the rough lava of the national park.
The helicopter hit a 10-degree slope and burned. Most of the wreckage that survived the fire was within a 10-foot radius of the crash, but a piece of the tail rotor was found 150 feet downslope.
In 2004 the Federal Aviation Administration issued a "directive" ordering potentially defective parts to be removed from Rolls-Royce engines.