HONOLULU – A federal aviation accident investigator will be sent to Hawaii to investigate after a tour helicopter crashed into a remote Big Island lava field of jagged rock, injuring all six people on board and forcing rescuers fly to extract some of them from the wreckage, officials said Thursday.
Photos taken by rescuers showed the crashed Bell 407 helicopter lying on its side in the barren lava field with its nose partially detached and some of its blades bent at odd angles.
He had departed Kona International Airport around 5 p.m. Wednesday for a sightseeing tour and crashed about 30 minutes later near the southern tip of the island, the National Transportation Safety Board spokeswoman said. Jennifer Gabris, in an email.
The rough lava field is more than a mile (1.6 kilometers) from the nearest road, so rescuers had to be whisked there by two helicopters, the county’s deputy fire chief said. Hawaii, Darwin Okinaka.
Firefighters extracted three people – an 18-year-old woman, a 19-year-old woman and a 23-year-old man – who managed to walk to the waiting medics, firefighters said. A 48-year-old man also walked from the crash site.
The most seriously injured person is a 19-year-old woman who was airlifted to hospital, firefighters said. A seriously injured 54-year-old man, along with four other people, were taken by ambulance to hospital. The passengers and pilot of the helicopter have not been identified.
Hawaii has a thriving helicopter tour business due to the flights which are extremely popular among tourists who want to see the stunning landscapes of the islands from planes that fly over rugged terrain that is otherwise difficult to reach.
A 2019 helicopter ride crash on the island of Kauai killed all seven people on board and the NTSB in its investigation report accused regulators of lax oversight of helicopter rides.
This accident was blamed on the pilot’s decision to continue flying despite deteriorating weather conditions. Witnesses and other pilots reported fog, rain and low visibility at the time of the crash, and some pilots had turned back.
During the Big Island accident, Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth said he was awaiting updates on the conditions of the injured, as well as other information and information on what may have caused the accident.
Weather conditions in the area at the time firefighters were called included winds of around 16 mph (26 kph), gusts of around 23 mph (37 kph) and scattered or broken clouds , said Thomas Vaughan, meteorologist at the National Weather Service.
“Standard afternoon weather on the Big Island,” he said.
Paradise Helicopters owner Calvin Dorn said in a statement that there were five passengers and a pilot on the tour. The company is cooperating with authorities, the statement said.
According to an NTSB database, the company has been involved in at least two previous accidents while sightseeing.
Returning from a sightseeing tour in 2005, a helicopter developed a “sudden vibration in the tail rotor pedals”, followed by a loud cracking or popping noise, then a loud popping noise, said the NTSB. It struck trees and low shrubs when the pilot landed in a clearing in a forest near the town of Pahoa on the Big Island. The pilot and the four passengers are unharmed.
And as a Paradise helicopter pilot prepared to take off in 2009 for a four-passenger Oahu sightseeing tour, the helicopter’s left landing gear collapsed, according to NTSB records. The helicopter rolled to the left and was damaged, but no one on board was injured.
In Wednesday’s crash, even though everyone on board was injured, the accident could have been much worse, Okinaka said.
“They are very, very lucky to see how extensive the damage to the plane was,” Okinaka said.
The NTSB investigator is not traveling to the crash site at this time, but will travel to Hawaii to examine the wreckage after it is recovered, Gabris said.
Associated Press writer Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska contributed to this report.
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