Copter crash wreckage salvage nearly complete

LIHU‘E — Most of the larger pieces of wreckage from the crashed Bell 206-B Jet Ranger aircraft owned by Jack Harter Helicopters were recovered Sunday, said NTSB lead investigator Wayne Pollack, at a 4 p.m. briefing held at Lihu‘e Airport.

Pollack said there may be one more lift of materials on Monday, depending on how much wreckage is brought down from the crash site on Wai‘ala‘ale Crater by the end of the day Sunday.

The helicopter crashed into the north wall of the towering crater located in the center of the island at about 9 a.m. on Wednesday, and was spotted at about noon the same day.

Pollack said a preliminary look at the crash site by investigators showed the Bell Ranger first hit at about 4,700 feet up, give or take 100 feet, and slid down the lush mountainside to about 4,400 feet above sea level.

The victims of the crash have been identified and include Mark Lundgren, the pilot, a 44-year-old resident of Puhi; Jeffrey S. Peterson, 33, and Monica D. Peterson, 33, of Denver, Colo.; and Edward J. Wadiak, 55, and Teresa M. Wadiak, 53, of Manassas, Va.

The initial impact was near the top of the crater. A flat plateau atop Wai‘ale‘ale is located at about 5,200 feet, at the top of the crater, and is known as one of the wettest spots on Earth. The mountain range is several miles wide and faces directly into the2 tradewinds and funnels moisture laden air from across the range into the area in and around where the crash took place, generating the high annual rainfall tallies.

A salvage team based on the ground about a mile makai of the crash, in an area known as the Blue Hole in mauka Wailua, have been working all day from early morning over the weekend to collect the wreckage on the face of the crater and strap it onto carriers attached beneath a helicopter. The wreckage is then flown to the staging area and loaded onto a flat bed truck, which takes it to a hanger near the faces out to the north end of the runways at Lihu‘e Airport. There the NTSB is beginning its analysis of the pieces.

Pollack said clearing weather in the center of Kaua‘i allowed salvage workers to accomplish much of the work of loading large pieces of the wreckage on Sunday. The pieces brought down during the day include the aircraft’s Rolls Royce engine, its instrument panel and fuel tanks, a circuit board, personal effects, the cockpit and transmission.

Eventually, the Rolls Royce engine will be sent to the Mainland for specialists to examine, he said.

The NTSB investigator is seeking pilots and passengers of other tour helicopters that were flying in the area of Wai‘ale‘ale Crater on Wednesday morning around the time of the crash. It is hoped information and observations they might have will help investigators determine factors in its cause.

Pollack said he has flown up to the crash site to inspect the scene firsthand.

When asked if there was anything unusual about the crash, Pollack said, “There’s nothing we haven’t seen before.”

The NTSB investigates a number of helicopter crashes throughout the year, according to information available on the agency’s Web site. Over the weekend a helicopter crashed in Arizona near a wildfire killing two occupants of the aircraft.

Pollack said it is possible that the helicopter crash could bring about an advisory from the Federal Aviation Administration regarding tour helicopter operations on Kaua‘i. However, that would be up to the FAA, he said, not the NTSB, whose mission it is to investigate air crashes.

In June, 1998, an Ohana Helicopters tour aircraft crashed in the same vicinity as Wednesday’s crash, killing the pilot and five passengers.

TGI Editor Chris Cook can be reached at ccook@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 227).

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