Helicopter makes emergency landing

HILO — Three people walked away from a forced helicopter landing on Kohala Mountain that left the aircraft damaged but intact Tuesday morning.


HILO — Three people walked away from a forced helicopter landing on Kohala Mountain that left the aircraft damaged but intact Tuesday morning.

The McDonnell Douglas 369E, with the pilot and two passengers, set down on the north slope of the mountain near Waimanu Valley, according to Hawaii County Fire Battalion Chief Darwin Okinaka, who said his crew staged at Hawaii Preparatory Academy in Waimea after receiving the alarm at 9:26 a.m.

“It was so remote only our helicopter was able to get up there, so we were staging down below, waiting in the event there were injuries … but no one was injured, so they were extricated to where their own private vehicles were parked,” Okinaka said.

Okinaka said he was told the aircraft experienced “heavy vibrations” before the pilot executed the emergency landing.

“It landed on the skids. It didn’t roll or anything, so he was able to land it safely,” he said. “There was some damage to the rotors. I believe the tail rotor was damaged from the landing, but I don’t know what damaged the main rotor. The fuselage was intact.”

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said the agency will investigate. He provided the tail number of the copter, which is owned by Volcano Helicopters in Hilo. The helicopter’s airworthiness date is March 19, 1987, and its current certification was issued Feb. 5, 2004, and expires July 31, 2019, according to the FAA website.

Volcano Helicopters owner David Okita confirmed that he was the pilot, and the flight was contracted by Kohala Watershed Partnership, a public/private partnership administered by the Kohala Center, but declined further comment.

“The helicopter is still at its location. I don’t know what the plan to retrieve it is,” said Kohala Center spokesman Liam Kernell.

Kernell didn’t identify the passengers and said he didn’t know the flight’s purpose.

“Our crew does go out to inaccessible areas of Kohala Mountain to do fence monitoring and repairs and invasive species control from time to time. But I don’t know what the purpose of the particular mission was (Tuesday).

“All I know is that it landed on the top of Waimanu and that fire and EMS came and got everybody out and there were no injuries reported. The crew’s obviously a little shaken. … We’re getting together (Wednesday) morning to do a little debrief, so we’ll know a few more details then.”

Kernell said those aboard were instructed to go to the emergency room for a physical check-up.

“Everybody says they’re fine; they look fine. But we can’t say 100 percent without a doctor giving them a clean bill of health,” he said.


The landing site was in or near Puu O Umi Natural Reserve Area, which is administered by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, but no one, including the DLNR, could answer Wednesday whether the chopper landed on state or private property.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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