Honeymooners among three couples in crash

Tour helicopter company Heli-USA has grounded all flights until Monday as family members of the victims and staff respond to the aftermath of Thursday’s deadly crash.

The “epitome of Aloha,” is what friends of helicopter pilot William Joseph Sulak claim to have lost in the wake of the crash that took his life and that of three others Thursday afternoon.

Investigators and family members of the survivors and deceased began to fly in from the Mainland yesterday.

The six passengers on the helicopter consisted of three couples.

One couple was on their honeymoon.

The couples were: Veronica and John O’Donnell, of East Rockaway, N.Y.; James and Teri McCarty of Cabot, Arkansas; and Cornelius and Margaret Scholtz of Santa Maria, Calif.

The three who died, in addition to Sulak, were: John O’Donnell, Teri McCarty and Margaret Scholtz.

Nigel Turner, President and CEO of Heli USA, said the priority for the company is to look after the well-being of the surviving family members.

“Our major concern today is looking after families of those on the aircraft,” he said. “Secondly, we’re working with the (National Transportation Safety Board) and the (Federal Aviation Administration) to investigate the incident.”

Friends of Sulak, who was well loved and revered for his up-beat personality, said they were shocked that someone with so much experience was flying the downed helicopter.

Jim Boulton, Sulak’s next-door neighbor, said he and Sulak “bonded” after learning they both fought in Vietnam. Had anyone else been flying, it could have been worse, he said.

“I know this is going to sound horrible,” Boulton said. “But the people in that helicopter were lucky. If it hadn’t been him flying that helicopter, they’d all be dead.”

Boulton, who said he will miss peering over his property and spotting Sulak watching the sunset — one of the pilot’s nightly routines — was in shock over the tragedy.

“It’s hit me real hard. I didn’t know until this morning,” he said yesterday.

Boulton also said Sulak was a good mentor to the rookie pilots who were brought into the home that Heli-USA leased for Sulak and other employees.

“Joe was a kind of father figure,” he said. “The pilots all looked up to him. He was the senior pilot.”

Though the two most recent helicopter crashes on-island were Heli-USA aircraft, Turner said the two accidents shared nothing else in common.

The earlier crash was in September 2005, when the same type of helicopter ditched into the ocean off the Na Pali Coast killing three.

“The two accidents are completely unrelated,” he said. “We’ve had two accidents for one million people.”

Safety is our goal and we’re going to look into this with NTSB and get to the bottom of it.”

Hydraulic failure — what Sulak reported as the problem before the crash — is typical in the type of helicopter he was flying, which bears the model number AS350BA, Turner said.

“Hydraulic failures have been quite common in that style helicopter,” he said.

Because of that, he added, Heli-USA pilots learn how to be prepared for such a scenario.

“All our pilots are very highly trained,” he said.

“This is one of the procedures they go through in training. This particular pilot did his recurrent training only one week prior.”

The training included practicing a maneuver in which the aircraft is landed differently than if it were coming into a harbor, he said.

FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said there is no timeline for the investigation, but said officials will conduct thorough, “exhaustive,” research into what went wrong.

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

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