The tour helicopter that crashed Wednesday morning near the top of the north face of what’s known at Wai‘ale‘ale Crater, slid several hundred feet down the lush green crater wall and tumbled before coming to rest thousands of feet above the floor of the crater.
That’s the report given Saturday afternoon by a federal investigator from the National Transportation Safety Board.
Three passengers and the pilot aboard were found dead by a rescue team that arrived several hours after the crash. A female passenger who survived held onto life until mid-afternoon, comforted by her rescuers.
The crash of the Bell 206-B Jet Ranger aircraft owned by Jack Harter Helicopters left a vertical swath of debris that measures several hundred feet down the face of the crater, said NTSB lead investigator Wayne Pollack.
Pollack said a two-man recovery team hired by Jack Harter Helicopters recovered numerous helicopter parts from the crash site yesterday. The men are beginning their arduous mountainside task early in the morning, reportedly working from a makeshift base camp in mauka Wailua.
Debris recovered so far includes the helicopter’s undercarriage, skid assembly, skid tubes, cross tube assembly, a magnetic compass, the rear blades of the tail rotor, personal effects of those who were aboard the aircraft and documents, charts and manuals.
All of the items recovered so far were found strewn along the mountain slope, above the area where the crash victims were found, Pollack said.
The main rotor blades, the frame of the helicopter and its engine are located in the vicinity of where the bodies were recovered, and it is anticipated the larger pieces will be removed next, Pollack said.
Working from top to bottom is the safest way to go about the operation, he said.
Weather permitting, investigators hope to resume the recovery operation this morning, Pollack said.
Recovery efforts were set to start at 7 a.m. Saturday, but they were held up by bad weather from a passing Kona weather front that brought low clouds and thunderstorms to Kaua‘i, Pollack said. The recovery resumed around mid-morning when the weather cleared.
The recovery team is being paid by Jack Harter Helicopters’ insurance company. They strap lines around the recovered wreckage at the crash site and a helicopter lowers the pieces, which are then loaded on a flat bed truck.
The debris is being gathered for investigators to analyze at a secured hangar at Lihu‘e Airport. One of the doors bearing the logo of Jack Harter’s company was among the pieces that could be seen being brought into the hangar shortly before 4 p.m. Saturday.
Pollack said he would not say what he thought caused the crash, saying a final determination will be made by the NTSB in Washington D.C. after a thorough investigation.
The victims of the crash have been identified as Mark Lundgren, the pilot, a 44-year-old resident of Puhi; Jeffrey S. Peterson, 33, and Monica D. Peterson, 33, of Denver, Colo.; Edward J. Wadiak, 55, and Teresa M. Wadiak, 53, of Manassas, Va.
The Petersons owned a painting company. Wadiak owned a satellite tracking company, Transmitter Location Systems LLC, and his wife was a middle school English teacher, Honolulu television station KITV reported.
The Wadiaks had come to Hawai‘i to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, the station said.
Monica Peterson survived the crash, reported around 9 a.m., but she succumbed to injuries six hours later.
She talked briefly with rescue workers at the 4,300-foot high crash site, but didn’t offer any comments to explain what might have caused the crash, authorities said.
Autopsies have been ordered or have been done on the crash victims. Toxicology tests are pending.
Jack Harter Helicopters has been in operation since 1975, and up until Wednesday’s accident, had a perfect safety record, authorities said.
Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org