Pilot, passenger statements describe Ka‘u helicopter crash

  • FILE - In this photo provided by the Hawaii County Fire Department is the scene where a helicopter crashed in a Big Island lava field in Hawaii, Wednesday, June 8, 2022. The National Transportation Safety Board is releasing various documents Monday, Oct. 31, 2022, related to the Hawaii helicopter crash that injured all six people on board the sightseeing tour. (Hawaii County Fire Department via AP, File)

  • In this photo provided by the Hawaii County Fire Department is the scene where a helicopter crashed in a Big Island lava field on June 8. The National Transportation Safety Board is releasing various documents on Monday, Oct. 31, related to the Hawaii helicopter crash that injured all six people on board the sightseeing tour. (Hawaii County Fire Department via AP, File)

The pilot of a helicopter that crashed on a remote Ka‘u lava field during a sunset tour in June told investigators that the engine had been swapped out but three earlier flights that day were normal.

The National Transportation Safety Board on Monday released various documents related to the crash that injured all six people on board, but the agency has yet to release a probable cause for why the helicopter suddenly made “violent and uncommanded yaw and pitch changes.”

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The morning of the crash, the pilot and a mechanic took the helicopter on a operation control flight after its engine had been changed and there were no issues with the flight, according to the pilot’s accident report. The documents did not specify exactly when the engine was changed.

The pilot then took the helicopter on two tours, which were also normal and uneventful.

The helicopter crashed during a third tour and was found lying on its left side with significant damage to the cockpit and the tail boom was nearly 800 feet from the main wreckage, according to one of the reports. A large piece of lava rock penetrated about 13 inches into the cockpit area.

In a passenger statement, a 48-year-old man on the tour with his two 18-year-old daughters told investigators the helicopter suddenly felt upside down about 30 minutes into the flight.

“He noted the time from onset to crashing was quick,” the document said. “He was attempting to say the Lord’s Prayer and was not able to complete it.”

The man, who sustained minor cuts and bruises, was able to get out of the wreckage and pull out of one his daughters, who was screaming in pain with her head stuck between the seat and the rock that pierced the cockpit. He later helped get the pilot out, who was in shock.

The most seriously hurt in the crash were the man’s daughter, whose injuries included a broken ankle and fractured vertebra, and the pilot, who suffered 18 broken bones.

The pilot told investigators it all happened quickly.

“Everything was nice and honky dory the first, 10 to 15 minutes,” according to a transcript of his interview with investigators.

Then, he heard and felt a “whoosh,” he said, “not like a loud whoosh, not a pressure change, but — and at the same time I got pushed pretty far forward into the machine and then you know, I realized that we were yawing really hard to the right uncommanded.”

Weather for the flight — a sunset tour around the Big Island — was good, with light winds, the pilot’s accident report said.

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