Helicopter pilot identified as air traffic recording reveals moments before crash


Air traffic controllers captured the moment right before a chopper went down Thursday morning, injuring five people.

A 16-year-old remains in critical condition. Two adults remain in stable condition.

In the recording, the pilot knew they were in trouble and tried to warn the controllers.

Pilot: Tower, Chopper 8, I think I’m going down.

Tower: Chopper 8, roger. Okay chopper, you said (inaudible) of Ford Island, right?

Pilot: (Inaudible)

Tower: Okay Air 1, if you can check next to the Arizona Memorial, please.

Air 1: Arizona Memorial, on my way, ma’am.Tower: Air 1, we have a report that he’s underwater.

The Hawaii Army National Guard identified him as Ryan Rohner, a UH-60 Black Hawk pilot and warrant officer. He has been with the guard since 1998.

On Friday, crews pulled the helicopter out of the water. Salvage crews attached two inflatable bags underneath the helicopter to help raise it out of about 10 feet of water near the shoreline. It took about an hour to get it out as a crane placed it on a pier at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

Officials say it was taken to a hangar where it will be inspected by investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board.

When we asked the NTSB what it’ll be looking for to determine the cause of the crash, a spokesman sent us a statement saying, “NTSB will examine the aircraft to see if there are any mechanical issues that could have either contributed or caused the crash. Maintenance records, the pilot’s records, air traffic communications, if available, and radar data, all will be reviewed.”

As far as life vests, federal guidelines require that each passenger must have one within reach.

Commercial pilot Brad Hayes tells us it’s always better for passengers to wear them throughout the flight. “Most tour operators in Hawaii, to my knowledge, wear the life vest around their waist, but it’s not over their neck. It’s in a little pouch around your waist,” he said.

“They’re wearing them throughout the flight?” KHON2 asked.

“Yes, but the requirement is to have them available,” Hayes said.

“Because it might be hard to put it on if the helicopter goes down fast?” KHON2 asked.

“Yeah, it would be tough,” Hayes said.

Some helicopters are equipped with floats which can prevent the aircraft from sinking. Hayes tells us that’s up to the company if they want to put those on because they are expensive.

Hayes, who has over 5,000 hours of flying time, said the pilot did a really good job of controlling the aircraft and putting it down close to the shoreline and avoiding crashing into the visitor center.

“It looked like it was under control, and the reason why he put it in the water right off of those boulders was that if he tried to keep it going, there was a good chance that the boulders probably would have been worse than the water,” Hayes said.

We went back to Genesis Helicopters, which owns the aircraft, but the office was locked and no one returned our calls. The company posted a message on its website:

Aloha Everyone,

It is with our deepest and sincerest of apologies that due to the tragic event that happened with our helicopter yesterday, we’ll be unable to provide tours/charter services until further notice.

Our utmost thoughts and concern go out to our pilot (his family), our passengers that were onboard that flight, and to all others that were affected by this unfortunate event. We’re absolutely at a lost for words as no words can describe the pain we’re experiencing right now.

Mahalo for your understanding…

The Crew @ Genesis

We also looked at the helicopter’s maintenance records and learned that it was built in 1979, but records did not indicate that the aircraft has had any major problems.

The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center announced it will resume full operations Saturday, which include documentary screenings in the theater and boat trips to the USS Arizona Memorial. The center opens at 7 a.m.

The USS Bowfin Submarine, USS Battleship Missouri Memorial, and Pacific Aviation Museum continue to be open to the public.

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