HONOLULU (KHON2) — National Transportation Safety Board investigators are scheduled to arrive Monday to look into the cause of the crash in Ka’u on the Big Island Wednesday evening. The accident once again brings to light concerns regarding the safety of the popular tours.
Mangled metal debris was ripped apart and smashed into a barren lava field. That was all that was left of the Bell 407 helicopter. Luckily the pilot and five passengers survived.
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A team of four NTSB investigators will arrive in Kona Monday to examine the wreckage and continue the investigation.
Paradise Helicopters has had five crashes in the last 20 years.
Attorney Rick Fried was involved with their crash in 2019, and has concerns since the NTSB found the cause of that crash was “fuel exhaustion.”
“When you fly, it’s not like if you run out of gas in your car,” said Fried, who is also a pilot. “We have a checklist that must be followed. One of them is — make sure you’ve got fuel. It seems so painfully obvious.”
Helicopter pilot and attorney Ladd Sanger, who worked on the 2019 case with Fried, said it’s very concerning for a part 135 operator to run a helicopter out of gas.
“That goes to the dispatch procedures, that goes to the pilot pre-flight procedures,” Sanger explained. “And so I think that we need to look at what is this operator’s culture of safety.”
As a whole Sanger said there are far too many helicopter crashes in Hawaii.
According to the NTSB, there have been 41 helicopter crashes since 1997, including Wednesday’s crash. Fifteen of them fatal resulting in 51 deaths
It happens so frequently Congressman Ed Case, a long time proponent for stiffer safety regulations, said it’s no longer surprising.
“I think it could happen on any given day, any given company. And that’s just unacceptable,” Case explained. “It’s not just about the tour helicopters not doing their job. It’s about the Federal Aviation Administration not doing its job.”
During an NTSB board meeting last month, Chair Jennifer Homendy blasted the FAA, holding them at least partially accountable for a crash in December of 2019 that killed seven people in Kekaha.
“The NTSB has issued recommendation after recommendation to the FAA following accident after accident which would have, if implemented, prevented the deaths of the four adults and three children (the youngest of whom was 10-years-old) who died in this tragedy,” Homendy said.
In a statement FAA said:
“A number of safety initiatives are already underway, including the installation of five weather cameras in Hawaii with another 21 on the way. Air tour operators can apply to the FAA’s voluntary Safety Management System program, and the FAA is developing rulemaking to make these advanced safety practices a requirement. Additionally, the FAA encourages air tour operators to equip their aircraft with ADS-B and flight data recorders, and are considering making these recorders mandatory.”
Case said if the FAA doesn’t do it, Congress will pass legislation to make them do it.
“The FAA has to look in the mirror and ask itself whether it is doing what it needs to do to assure the safety of not only the people in the helicopters, but the people on the ground,” said Case. “Because on any given day, a helicopter could crash into people on the ground.”
In April of 2019 one almost did. Three people aboard the chopper died in that crash. It landed in Kailua on a busy residential street.
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“We’ve got to improve the safety,” Sanger said. “And we’ve got to hold operators accountable.”