Skydive Hawaii: State management, lack of facilities undercut Dillingham Airfield safety


The owner of one of Hawaii’s largest skydiving companies says the state is putting the industry and its passengers at risk with a lack of safety and maintenance facilities at Dillingham Airfield, the site of a deadly skydiving plane crash in June.

Frank Hinshaw, founder of Skydive Hawaii, has gone so far as to call for resignations at the state Department of Transportation Airports Division, and for the U.S. Army to crack down on how its tenant — the state D.O.T. — manages the airfield perimeter. The state says it is taking action on inspections and safety improvements. Always Investigating went to take a look.

Tens of thousands of people a year take off on dozens of daily skydive flight departures at Dillingham Airfield on Oahu’s North Shore. In June, 11 people died when their Oahu Parachute Center sunset departure crashed moments after takeoff. The cause is under investigation. Several experts have told us it’s likely something went wrong with one engine.

Skydive Hawaii also operates based out of Dillingham, and its owner, Hinshaw, is speaking out about what he calls state facility mismanagement.

“Skydiving, in order to be safe, needs partners in safety,” Hinshaw said. “We need the state government to cooperate with our request to do aircraft maintenance if they want safe airplanes.”

Dillingham has no maintenance or hangar facilities. Operators here say they’ve asked to build some on their own dime for decades. Hinshaw says the D.O.T. won’t approve.

“I’m willing to put my money,” Hinshaw said. “I’m not asking the state for money.”

Always Investigating asked him: “What connection do you feel there was between this crash and the lack of maintenance facilities here?”

“I don’t know that there can be any direct correlation,” Hinshaw said, “but we moved our airplanes away for a reason.”

We asked how does Skydive Hawaii do its maintenance?

“We moved our airplanes to Honolulu International,” Hinshaw said. “We fly over every day. It’s about $600 a day additional cost, plus the $5,000 a month to rent a hangar in Honolulu. But that’s safety.”

Hinshaw says a lack of facilities is just the start of the problems.

“When the state responded to the (June plane crash) accident, they didn’t have any fire equipment,” Hinshaw said. “It was a burning crash. There’s no fire truck here. There’s nobody trained in fire safety here to respond to an accident. we don’t get water everyday here. There are just basic necessities.”

There are no fueling facilities. A fuel trucks is called in instead.

“There’s no permanent facility,” Hinshaw said. “That’s what we’ve been asking for. The state says this is the wild west but that’s because they make it that way.”

The state has made changes at the airfield since the crash. The Department of Transportation tells Always Investigating:

“HDOT conducted a routine pre-inspection at Dillingham Airfield in mid-July to verify that aircraft stored onsite have parking permits and registered tail numbers.”

The state also said: “HDOT is taking action to protect the perimeter of the airfield through the installation of barriers on airport property”

Hinshaw says the orange and white plastic dividers – in a gravel parking lot far from the crash site — cut off his customers’ parking.

“Why a manager would come out here and tell people that this water barrier is the state’s response is just insulting to the people who lost their lives,” Hinshaw said, adding he believes the barriers are a response “to me complaining about the way the state manages this airport.”

The D.O.T. told Always Investigating: “The characterization of our safety improvements as punitive action against Dillingham Airfield users is not accurate.”

Hinshaw is calling for the airport manager to step down and for the Army – which owns the airfield — to take a look at what’s going on at Dillingham.

“We need fresh blood,” Hinshaw said. “The United States aAmy could start having some oversight on who their airport sponsor is here. The Army has great knowledge of aviation as well.”

We’ve reached out to the Army for response. While the state Airports Fivision manages the ground facilities under lease from the Army at Dillingham, the D.O.T. says federal authorities remain in charge of flight regulations.

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