Newlyweds Bill Thorson and Karen Clifton-Thorson spoke yesterday at a news conference in Beloit, Wis., where they talked about surviving Friday's helicopter crash off Kauai.

Pilot blames other
helicopter for crash

» Best friends die in crash

LIHUE » The helicopter crash that killed three people on Kauai last week occurred just after the Heli USA Airways pilot took evasive action from another helicopter flying away from a thunderstorm, National Transportation Safety Board officials said yesterday.

Heli USA pilot Glen Lampton has given an account of the encounter between the two aircraft to NTSB authorities, but the owner of the other company, Inter-island Helicopters, disputed Lampton's story.

Inter-island owner Ken D'Attilio countered that Lampton's inexperience with flying in Kauai was to blame for the North Shore crash Friday.

Debra Eckrote, the lead investigator for the NTSB, said Lampton indicated "he did an evasive action" because the helicopters were too close to each other. As Lampton stabilized his helicopter from the encounter, he entered the thunderstorm, was forced down thousands of feet, and hit the water, she said.

The other aircraft, which she only described as a McDonnell Douglas 500, turned to escape the "wall of rain" that the passengers had earlier described, Eckrote said. After the crash, the pilot of the MD 500 heard the May Day and reported it. But the pilot could not turn around because the helicopter was low on fuel, she said.

Eckrote said she expected to interview the MD 500 pilot soon.

Star-Bulletin attempts to reach Lampton or Heli USA executives were unsuccessful.

Lampton and two passengers survived the crash: Karen Clifton-Thorson and Bill Thorson of Beloit, Wisc. Clifton's father, Laverne, died, as did two women from Portland, Maine: Catherine Baron and Mary Soucy.

D'Attilio said his pilot, Ian Bagano, was nowhere near the Heli USA helicopter when it went down. Yesterday, Bagano could not be reached for comment, D'Attilio said.

"Our guy was, what would you say, smart? Smart enough to turn around," said D'Attilio. "You are out there to take people on a tour. If you flew into weather, what are they going to see?"

D'Attilio blamed the crash on Lampton's inexperience with Kauai. The NTSB said Lampton has been flying on Kauai for only six or seven weeks, but logged 2,900 hours on the mainland for a police department and news organizations.

"It's a different place to fly," D'Attilio said about Kauai. "It's mountain flying. You need to read the wind differently."

NTSB officials said Lampton tried to turn around after entering the storm. But he only made it about 160 degrees before hitting the down draft and it "just drops out beneath him," Eckrote said.

Damage to the tail boom and rotor indicate the helicopter first "kissed" the water, Eckrote said, and then bounced up "just like a bungee cord." It then started spinning and hit the water again.

Investigators said they have eliminated mechanical or engine problem as possible causes. The Kauai phase of the investigation is "winding down," and the aircraft has been turned over to the insurance company.

A full report will be compiled over the next few months, said Eckrote, whose interviews with survivors indicated that "everyone was alive and moving" after the aircraft hit the water.


Best friends die in flight
intended to cap vacation

Two Maine women, who died Friday in a sightseeing helicopter off Kauai, had spent the past two weeks touring the islands with the flight planned as their highlight.

The Maine Portland Press Herald yesterday identified the two women as best friends Mary Soucy, 62; and Catherine Baron, 68.

Soucy and Baron were with three other people and a pilot when the helicopter crashed in a sudden and severe storm that generated lightning, strong winds and heavy rainfall. The two women and another passenger, Laverne Clifton, 69, of Beloit, Wis., were killed; two other passengers and the pilot swam to safety.

The Maine newspaper reported that Baron had been an administrator for the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service but retired this summer in part so she could spend more time traveling with friends. Soucy worked as an administrator at Deering Pavilion, an elderly housing complex, and had been planning the Hawaiian vacation for months.

Baron's son-in-law, Mark Philbrick, told the newspaper that Catherine Baron and Soucy, both widows, had spent the past two weeks touring the Hawaiian islands and the helicopter trip likely was to be a final highlight of their trip.

"Cathy had worked hard and long at the Muskie School in order to be able to retire to focus on her grandchildren, gardening and traveling, and this was her first trip with her best friend after her retirement," Philbrick said. "They were near the end of their second week of vacation in Hawaii and taking that stupid helicopter trip was kind of a highlight ... People are really going to miss her."

The newspaper said co-workers described Baron as extremely committed to the school where she began working in 1976. Her posts included administrative director for the school and, most recently, director of finance and administration for the school's Institute for Child and Family Policy.

"She believed in what we were doing and she spent nights and weekends supporting researchers that were doing things to build the organization," said Andrew Coburn, associate dean of the Muskie School. "Cathy had an incredible insight into people and circumstances in a very professional way ... She was just very steady and calm, but also very insightful and had terrific judgment."

Baron is survived by a son, daughter and five grand- children.

Family members described Soucy as petite and gentle. She enjoyed outdoor activities such as camping and cross-country skiing.

"She was dainty, sweet and kind," said her sister-in-law Rosemarie Soucy, who grew up with her in Massachusetts.

Mary Soucy had been planning her trip to Hawaii for months, organizing details and buying new luggage.

"It was a big adventure for them," Rosemarie Soucy said.

Coburn said of Baron: "Although she was a very quiet person in a lot of ways, she had tremendous spunk."

Soucy, like Baron, would not have been timid about flying in a helicopter to take in some of Hawaii's dramatic vistas, her sister-in-law said.

Her husband, Dominic Soucy, died in 1995 and the couple had no children.

| | |
E-mail to City Desk


© Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- https://archives.starbulletin.com