Homicide investigation opened in case of fatal helicopter crash

County Prosecuting Attorney Craig A. De Costa said it is standard procedure to open a homicide investigation when a fatal accident, helicopter or automobile, happens on Kaua’i.

Since in most cases all involved in helicopter crashes usually perish, it is a rare case when the pilot survives and others on board die, he said.

Though a homicide investigation has been opened on Kaua’i in the case of a mid-September crash that left three visitors dead, the vice president of Heli-USA said he’s not sure prosecutors will move forward with that investigation, no charges have been filed, and that De Costa’s call is “very speculative at the moment.”

John Power, vice president of Heli USA Airways, continues to defend pilot Glen Lampton, who along with two others survived the crash of a Heli USA Airways craft into the ocean off Ha’ena Point.

Three others aboard died.

There still is vehement dispute about the circumstances surrounding the crash, the number of other helicopters in the area when a fierce storm engulfed the North Shore area, and whether or not Lampton was qualified to fly in those conditions, or should have been flying in that area at the time of the crash.

Perishing in the crash were Laverne Clifton, of Beloit, Wis.; and Catherine Baron and Mary H. Soucy, both of Portland, Maine. Surviving were Lampton of Kaua’i, and Karen Thorson and Bill Thorson, both of Beloit, Wis.

“I believe it was purely an accident,” said Power, who noted that Lampton, whom he doesn’t believe is still on Kaua’i, was suspended from flying pending the outcome of the investigation, as is company policy.

Power said there were four other aircraft in the area at varying altitudes at the time of the crash, and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report will confirm that.

He continued to defend Lampton.

“Is it possible to make those charges (of homicide)?” he asked. It is the first fatal accident experienced by any pilot at Heli USA, and they have flown over 1 million passengers in Hawai’i and on the Mainland, he added.

Power said Lampton may be able to resume flying after the NTSB investigation is completed. “We wouldn’t hang a pilot out to dry,” he said.

He didn’t want to comment more on the ongoing NTSB investigation, only to say that Heli USA leaders may have to make some adjustments after the final NTSB report comes out.

“Hopefully something good will come out of it,” said Power, adding that he knows the crash and aftermath have been traumatic on both the victims’ families and the survivors.

De Costa promised a “full and fair investigation,” and said that First Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Richard Minatoya and Ken Norelli have been assigned the case.

A Kaua’i Police Department detective has also been assigned to the case, and prosecutors have asked for and received help from both NTSB and Federal Aviation Administration sources, said De Costa.

NTSB lead investigator Debra Eckrote was not available for comment last week.

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