4 die, 3 critical after copter impact

The male pilot of a tour helicopter was among the four people who died yesterday in the fourth fatal Kaua‘i helicopter accident within four years.

Three survivors of the accident were critically injured.

A Heli-USA A-Star helicopter and its seven occupants crashed at the Princeville Airport yesterday around 3 p.m., according to county officials. Bright-yellow pontoons were deployed beneath yesterday’s wreck that was a mere 300 yards from the terminal, eclipsed by the jackknifed-helicopter tail and three, dangling blades.

Four survivors deemed in critical condition were taken to Wilcox Memorial Hospital, however, one died en route, Mary Daubert, county spokeswoman, said.

The three survivors were later flown to Queens Medical Center in Honolulu.

One of the survivors is a woman and the other two are men.

The six passengers were visiting couples form Arkansas, California and New York. One person from each of the states died.

The helicopter pilot reported hydraulic failure a few minutes into the flight and crashed upon return to the airport, officials said.

The pilot, well-known for his years of flying experience, was a pro, said Mike Stewart, a resident who gives island-safety orientations and books flights with activities companies.

“I’d put my daughter in one of his helicopters – I have,” he said. “It’s just one of those things that happens before the grace of God.”

Federal Aviation Administration investigators and Kaua‘i police closed the Princeville Airport to the public, however no aircraft on the island were officially ordered grounded, said Ian Gregor, FAA spokesman.

“It’s pretty rare for the FAA to ground anybody,” Gregor said. “We have no idea what went wrong. We haven’t begun the investigation into the accident, so there is absolutely no reason to take any extraordinary precautions.”

In an effort to curb the state’s poor track record in preventing air tour tragedies, the FAA rolled out tougher guidelines for Hawai‘i in 1994 to try to alleviate such accidents, Gregor said.

“We had a history of paying special attention to Hawai‘i air tour operations,” he said. “So we tightened pilot requirements, requiring aircraft flying over water to have pontoons or life vests or both,” he said.

In order to standardize the entire industry, the FAA extended those Hawai‘i guidelines to the rest of the country last month.

Though not yet on-scene, representatives of the National Transportation Safety Board will take the lead in the investigation, Gregor said.

• Amanda C. Gregg, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or agregg@kauaipubco.com

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