Story and Video Provided By: KHNL Raycom Media
Eyewitnesses describe the terrifying moments right before a helicopter crashed on Kauai this afternoon at 1:05 p.m. It is the second chopper crash in 4 days, and it happened near the site of the first chopper crash on the north shore of Kauai.
The Kauai Fire Department says one person is dead and four others are injured. There were 5 people on board. The Federal Aviation Administration says the 30 year old pilot reported hearing a loud bang and lost control of the aircraft. The helicopter hit some trees with its main rotor blade.
According to the FAA Western-Pacific Region Communications Manager Ian Gregor, "(The pilot) has a commercial rotorcraft (helicopter) certificate and an instrument rating, which means he is licensed to fly in bad weather. The pilot was not talking to air traffic control. Air tour operators typically are not in touch with controllers when they are flying in uncontrolled airspace in good weather."
Gregor also says the helicopter is owned by Smokey Mountain Helicopters out of Delaware. It's the parent company of Inter-Island Helicopter, which had a fatal accident on December 25, 2005. The pilot died while fighting a fire. Inter-Island Helicopter conducts a lot of search and rescue missions.
FAA & National Transportation Safety Board inspectors are on the scene. They had been in the area to investigate last Thursday's Heli USA crash at the Princeville airport which killed four and critically injured three others.
NTSB investigator Brian Rayner says, "The witnesses said pieces departed the helicopter. There are pieces into the ocean. When we took inventory the tail rotor, drive shaft, and gear box are not with helicopter."
NTSB divers will go into the ocean off Hanalei Monday to search for the pieces that fell off. Those are important pieces of evidence that could help the investigation.
Hundreds of people in the Hanalei community both heard a boom and saw the tour chopper spiral out of the sky. Many are in shock given this is the second fatal tour crash in four days. The tour chopper came down in this Hanalei campsite where Winston Welborn is the caretaker. "I was upstairs in living room, heard a loud thud like a mechanical part. Then I came outside to see the nose and I witnessed the helicopter hit ground right where it lays now."
Witness Mc McCann says, "We heard the copter first. It went into a controlled spin with a large arch. I became more concerned as got into a tighter and tighter spiral then it just went straight down. It disappeared from view into the tree line and I heard a loud explosion."
Yet another witness, Zion Still, adds, "I looked at it because it was twirling in the air, getting all messed up, and it was getting lower and lower. My dad helped pull the people out. We did our best to keep the scene safe and make sure there were no hazards. We did the best we could to extricate people."
This YMCA where the helicopter went down is just 9 miles from Princeville where Thursday's accident took place.
John Rodden, another eyewitness, remarks, "It's terrible considering what happened to the other helicopter a couple of days ago. It's unbelieveable; too tragic. They have got to take a good hard look at this- 2 (accidents) in one week?