Crashes don’t keep tourists away from helicopter tours

Tourists are helping one of the island’s featured industries move forward in the wake of two fatal helicopter accidents that happened within days of each other earlier this month.

A steady stream of helicopters has remained in operation since the two fatal crashes, air tour representatives said yesterday.

That’s because people like Kaycee Stushek and Cory Shepard, tourists from Wisconsin, are sticking to their sightseeing plans. The couple said in spite of the recent tragedies, they still wanted a bird’s-eye-view of the island from Air Kaua‘i and to be airlifted to one of its most treasured gems: the Kalalau Trail.

“I’m a little bit nervous,” Stushek said before the trip, “but I’ve heard Air Kaua‘i never had any incidents.”

Shepard, who had less anxiety because of his experience with the National Guard, said, “it’s just another air ride.”

The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the two crashes, the first of which was on March 8, after the hydraulics of a Heli-USA A-Star failed, killing four and injuring three at the Princeville Airport.

One person died and three were injured in the second accident, which resulted after an Inter-Island helicopter lost its tail rotor and crashed on March 11 in Ha‘ena.

Nigel Turner, president and CEO of Heli-USA, said the company has voluntarily remained grounded for a period of mourning, slated to end Thursday, the two-week anniversary of the accident.

The helicopter’s pilot, William Joseph “Helicopter Joe” Sulak, was one of the crash’s fatalities.

“Because we lost one of our own crew, we are having a ‘stand down’ until the end of this week,” Turner said.

“The main reason is it’s a small community. It’s not like we’ve got a big base and we’re a huge company. It’s very traumatic on our staff.”

That said, Turner added, the company is committed also to providing a positive experience for its clients.

“This is tourism and the idea is to give people an enjoyable and happy flight,” he said. “That’s hard when your staff is grieving.”

Inter Island Helicopters is still taking air tour reservations.

However, its representatives declined to comment for this story.

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

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