Kalalau Trail reopens following crash

LIHUE — The Kalalau trail reopened to hikers and campers on Saturday following a helicopter accident on Thursday.

Another helicopter incident that same day resulted in minor injuries to two passengers.

“These are fairly uncommon,” said Casey Riemer, general manager of Jack Harter Tours.

In one of the mishaps, a private helicopter service was performing contract work for the Department of Land and Natural Resources near Kalalau beach along the Na Pali coast when the incident occurred around 2 p.m. Thursday.

The helicopter belongs to Airborne Aviation, an independent outfit based in Lihue. The two DLNR passengers who were carried onto the beach suffered minor injuries in the accident. The pilot, however, was not hurt.

Airborne Aviation spokeswoman Suzi Hobbs said the accident occurred while the helicopter was on the ground. She met with National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration officials on Friday.

Division of State Parks crews were clearing discarded camping gear and trash from illegal campsites throughout Kalalau valley. It costs about $20,000 to remove these items from Kalalau by helicopter sling loads, DLNR spokeswoman Deborah Ward.

The helicopter had landed at about 1:45 p.m. when a tarp on the ground blew into the rotor blades, damaging the aircraft, the FAA said.

The helicopter involved in the accident was an MD-500. The five-seat, 42-foot helicopter has a five-blade rotor and is popular as a small but powerful aircraft.

County spokesperson Sarah Blane said there was some confusion with three separate incidents on Thursday.

The county Air 1 Rescue helicopter retrieved an injured hiker with a possible broken leg in the Kalalau Valley around 3 p.m. The pilot observed the Airborne Aviation helicopter situation and radioed to Kauai Dispatch that three individuals with minor injuries needed assistance at 3:17 p.m.

Air 1 airlifted them with the injured hiker to Waimea Canyon Ballpark where medics transported the hiker to Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital. The pilot of the private helicopter reported no injuries and the two passengers were treated for minor injuries and released, Blane said.

Early Thursday morning, a Jack Harter Tours pilot with four passengers experienced a bird strike that cracked the helicopter windshield while flying over Waimea Canyon. The helicopter, also an MB 500, 5-seat version, made an unscheduled landing at a Hanapepe airport site.

Two of the passengers were taken to Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital in Waimea where they were treated and released.

John Bravender, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Honolulu, said there was an AirNet flying advisory of 2,500 feet on Kauai because of clouds and showers with northeasterly winds from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday. Barking Sands did not report any restrictions, he said.

“The north and east facing sides of Kauai were under an AirNet advisory,” Bravender said, noting there was rain, light fog, and clouds were at 3,000 feet.

Low cloud ceilings could obscure mountains in the clouds, he added.

Weather was not a factor in the Airborne Aviation incident, according to the company.

The FAA reports eight separate air accidents in and around Kauai that have claimed 18 lives in the past decade. Two involved ultralight aircraft and one was a fixed wing aircraft and five were with helicopters.

• Tom LaVenture, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0424 or by emailing tlaventure@thegardenisland.com.


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