Letters for Monday — May 1, 2006

• Public has a right to know

• Fighting back

• Helicopter debate continues

Public has a right to know

As a retired newsman, who has been in the business for nearly 50 years, I commend The Garden Island newspaper for endeavoring to publish all the facts and opinions related to the police chief controversy.

The newspaper’s efforts have been made more difficult because some of the reports and information, paid for by taxpayers, have been withheld from the public.

It is disingenuous for public officials to withhold from the public pertinent information then criticize the newspaper for publishing all the information and opinion that it is able to dig up.

If the public officials are confident in the correctness of their decisions and actions, they should release all the information on which those decisions and actions were based, then let the voters decide whether they agree or disagree.

The public paid for everything that went into the reports and information. The public has a right to what it paid for.

The foundations of our government were built on the public’s right to know and oversee the actions of government. Under our system of government public officials are servants of the people, not the other-way-around.

  • Jack Stephens

Fighting back

It’s easy to attack the county council and the mayor because they usually don’t fight back. But at this week’s council meeting — the gloves came off.

The issue: The council’s handling of a ruling by the Ethics Board that led to a reprimand of a former police commissioner and a recommendation to cancel the police chief’s contract.

This story should have dropped out of the headlines about two weeks ago, but due to the grandstanding of a small band of conspiracy theorists, the plot seemed to thicken. The thickening, however, was produced by unfounded rumors, innuendo and outright lies being circulated through the community via the opinion page, by word of mouth and in testimony before the council.

It was hysteria without a cause and the characters who participated in this mindless goose chase managed nothing more purposeful than distracting local government from focusing on legitimate business. Even one council member admitted that he was taken in by the conspiracy peddler’s song and dance. If a member of the council was duped — imagine how many people in the community have bought into this nonsense.

Sometimes public criticism is a good thing and it helps government stay on its toes. But, at times, the public just doesn’t get it. And, the reason they don’t get it — is because of misinformation circulated by people who shoot their mouths off before they check the facts. (Believe me, I speak from experience!)

The council makes mistakes and they should be called on it when they do, but when they do a good job — that, too, should be acknowledged.

The council was right to blow its top this week and challenge the Chicken Little brigade to put up or shut up. The thirty minutes or so dealing with the Ethics Board question should be required viewing by anyone who is still buying the conspiracy myth.

Unfortunately, some people have so much invested in keeping the pot boiling, they will conclude that the council’s explanation is yet another devious scheme to cover-up the facts and bamboozle the public.

  • Fred von Wiegen

Helicopter debate continues

This is in response to Mr. Kass’ letter published on April 26.

Mr. Kass accuses me of a false statement concerning post SFAR 71 accidents. All the accidents were initially at or above the 1,500 feet above ground level (agl). It is obvious that upon impact, the helicopter was at ground level. As an example, the pilot on one accident was above the 1,500 feet agl when he lost visibility because of heavy rain showers and rapid weather changes that were encountered and not anticipated. He made an announcement on the radio for all other pilots to hear that he went inadvertently into clouds and lost visibility. Other pilots told him to turn to 120 degrees which would have taken him away from the mountains towards the ocean and the Lihue Airport. The shortest and safest turn would have been a left turn. The pilot turned right instead and impacted the mountain ridgeline minutes later at about the 3,300 feet above sea level (approximately 2,400 feet above the ground). Why did the pilot turn right? Nobody knows the answer to this question. Other pilots just prior and after this time line got caught in the same very rapid weather change and flew at a very low altitude and maintained visual reference to the ground (which is also regulatory) and flew back to the airport safely, including myself. I reiterate again, all the accidents post SFAR 71, were initially above 1,500 feet agl. Mr. Kass did not repute the post SFAR 71 helicopter fatalities nor did the FAA from my previous letter.

Mr. Kass has a lack of knowledge and understanding of aircraft vertical separation and its importance to aviation safety. The FAA has evolved from an organization run by pilots to a political administration run by politicians and non-aviation types. Our video of the near-miss was submitted first to our illustrious FAA FSDO in Honolulu that claimed the incident was not a near-miss and shined it off. It was after we calibrated the distance with known ground land marks and submitted the video personally to Mr. Jim Hall of the NTSB did the helicopters get lower altitude deviations thereby separating them from airplanes that fly, as Mr. Kass stated, at 1,000 feet.

Because helicopter pilots are trained from the beginning of their careers to fly at 500 feet agl, they have developed a keen sense of awareness of terrain topography and constantly lookout for safe landing spots in case of an engine failure. At 1,500 feet the terrain is very deceptive and once a pilot commits to a spot, he is pretty much committed with few exceptions depending upon the topography. There has never been a fatal accident on Kauai attributed to an engine failure when flying at lower altitudes over terrain. I have excluded hovering within the height velocity curve because this is generally an area of avoidance in the aircraft flight manual and that, in itself, may be regulatory. The only accident that had an engine failure while flying at altitude that caused fatalities was Papillon prior to SFAR 71 in 1994 and that aircraft landed in the water. All the passengers exited the helicopter safely. The lack of accessible personal flotation devices (PFD) caused the fatalities.

I do agree with Mr. Kass that a few operators and pilots blatantly violate SFAR 71. We, in the industry, know who they are and complaints have been expressed to the FAA within the industry itself. Those who blatantly violate SFAR 71 have created an unfair trade practice while those who do comply are financially penalized.

Bali Hai is no longer in business. With the first referenced accident in this letter, that company was penalized by the FAA by having its deviation authority rescinded. I know of another accident on another island where the operator was not but the industry was penalized. It appears some have been given better consideration and shown favoritism by the FAA. This is a question for the FAA.

The Pilot-In-Command by regulation has the final say as to whether the flight goes or does not go. No operator can force a pilot to violate a regulation. Pilots generally are paid by the day plus flight time so they get paid whether they fly or not.

  • Preston Myers, President/Pilot
    Safari Helicopters

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