Copter investigations info fleeting

The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are conducting exhaustive investigations into two helicopter crashes that occurred within four days of each other on March 8 and March 11, an FAA official said yesterday.

“We are continuing the investigation,” said FAA spokesman Ian Gregor from his office in Los Angeles. “The NTSB will issue the final report.”

NTSB investigators are expected to submit preliminary reports next week. The date of release for the final reports has not been announced.

Neither Jim Silliman, investigating the March 11 crash, nor Brian Rayner, investigating the March 8 incident, both with NTSB, were immediately available for comment yesterday.

Separate NTSB teams are conducting investigations into the March 8 crash of an A-Star helicopter at the Princeville Airport and the March 11 crash of a Hughes 500 tour helicopter in a field by the YMCA’s Camp Naue in Ha‘ena.

Four people, including the pilot, were killed and three others were seriously injured in the March 8 crash. The four who died were: pilot, William “Joe” Sulak of Kilauea; John O’Donnell of East Rockaway, N.Y.; Teri McCarty of Cabot, Arkansas; and Margriet Scholtz of Santa Maria, Calif. The survivors were: Veronica O’Donnell, of East Rockaway, N.Y.; James McCarty of Cabot, Arkansas; and Cornelius Scholtz of Santa Maria, Calif.

Sulak reported hydraulics problems within 2 miles of the airport. The hydraulic system steers the helicopter. Eyewitnesses said the helicopter approached the Princeville Airport slowly and then rotated forward and crashed on its head.

Three days later in the crash of the Inter-Island helicopter, Michael Gershon, 60, a visitor from Walnut Creek, Calif., perished. Three persons were seriously injured: Douglas Barton, 60, and Judy Barton, 51, both of Newport, N.H., and Dania Hansen, 60, of Los Altos, Calif. The pilot, Donald Torres, suffered minor injuries.

Repeated calls to Inter-Island CEO Ken D’Attilio about the accident have not been returned. Inter-Island Helicopters spokesman Floyd Ingram has declined to comment.

Witnesses heard two popping sounds and saw pieces of the tail section of the aircraft fall into the water at about the time the helicopter lost control and began spinning. A lateral tailspin brought the helicopter back over land where it clipped the tops of trees and crashed on its side.

Sulak and Torres were applauded by the separate company executives, Nigel Turner of Heli-USA and Ken D’Attilio of Inter-Island for their actions. Eyewitnesses said the pilots in both crashes made the most out of a bad situation and took evasive action to keep their passengers safe.

With one less helicopter in operation for Inter-Island Helicopters, the question remains whether the company can continue to provide a full range of search and rescue services to the county. The company has contracted in the past with the Kaua‘i Fire Department to provide emergency services, during rescue operations.

Director of operations for Inter-Island Helicopters, Marty Kydland, said in a January 2006 The Garden Island article about rescuing a hiker, “We have contracts with the Kaua‘i Fire Department to fly search and rescue operations on the island and the company participates in about 50 rescues a year.”

• Lester Chang, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or lchang@kauaipubco.com.

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