Crash ended in flames; remaining victims identified

  • photo courtesy of National Transportation Safety Board

    Circled in red on this photo is the site of the December 26 Safari tour helicopter crash on Kauai, which killed seven people including the pilot.

LIHUE — Investigators say the helicopter that crashed into Kauai mountains last week burst into flames after hitting a cliff at about 2,900 feet, killing all seven people in the chopper.

According to the ongoing National Transportation Safety Board investigation, the Safari tour helicopter hit a ridge near Nu’alolo Valley on Kauai at an altitude of 2,900 feet and then fell about 100 feet before a “post-crash fire consumed much of the aircraft.”

Tuesday, Kauai Police confirmed they still hadn’t recovered the last set of remains from the wreckage, but did release the names of four previously unidentified victims, a family from Switzerland that included 50-year-old Sylvie Winteregg, 49-year-old Christophe Winteregg, 13-year-old Alice Winteregg and 10-year-old Agathe Winteregg.

The helicopter was piloted by 69-year-old Wailua resident Paul Matero, who had been flying helicopters on Kauai for 12 years and, in total, for about 40 years. Also aboard the aircraft and killed in the crash were Wisconsin visitors Amy Gannon, 47, and her daughter Jocelyn, 13.

The multi-agency Kauai response team recovered six bodies from the wreckage on Dec 27 and, by the end of the day, declared no survivors of the crash. Tuesday, KPD confirmed that declaration saying, “Due to the nature of the crash and impact damage, Kauai police have confirmed that there are no survivors.”

KPD said Tuesday that the department is finalizing efforts to recover the last set of remains and personal effects of those aboard the helicopter.

“We have recovered as much as we can from the site so that families can hopefully find some sense of closure,” said KPD Assistant Chief Bryson Ponce. “We ask that the public please continue to remember those who have just lost their loved ones and to remain sensitive while they grieve their loss. Again, our deepest, heartfelt condolences go out to everyone who was touched by this tragedy.”

NTSB released its first report on the investigation on Tuesday, two days after investigators landed on Kauai and five days after the crash that still has people wondering what happened.

In that report NTSB details what they’ve found so far: On Dec. 26, about 4:57 p.m., the Airbus AS350 B2 helicopter, registration number N985SA, collided with terrain about 24 miles northwest of Lihue.

The helicopter was registered to SAF LTD and operated by Safari Helicopters, Inc. under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 135 as an on-demand sightseeing flight. The flight departed Lihue Airport at 4:31 p.m.

Sunday, NTSB sent a team of four, led by Brice Banning, to analyze the crash site and complete an investigation. Also on the team is an expert in airworthiness, operations and family assistance. There are also investigators working at headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Banning and the rest of the team flew over the crash site Monday to evaluate conditions and formulate a plan to relocate the wreckage for easier examination.

Currently, it is on the side of a steep ridge, surrounded by thick jungle and cliffs.

“In the coming days the wreckage will be moved to a secure location where investigators will conduct a more thorough examination of the recovered evidence. Details and timing are still being worked out,” said Eric Weiss, NTSB spokesman, in Tuesday’s release.

It could take up to two years for NTSB to complete their investigation into the crash, but a preliminary report will be issued sometime within the next three weeks.

That preliminary report likely won’t contain findings of probable cause of the crash, or safety recommendations; that information will be included in the final report issued at the end of the investigation.

Kauai Police Chief Todd Raybuck commended the work of Kauai’s multi-agency team on Tuesday, highlighting the rough terrain all responders and investigators are battling to recover the wreckage.

“I cannot put into words just how remote and steep the terrain is where this tragic incident occurred but everyone has been working together nonstop, especially in hopes of attempting to provide some semblance of closure for the families,” Raybuck said.

5 Comments
  1. manongindashadow0711 January 1, 2020 8:06 am Reply

    If the helicopter burst out in flames after hitting and falling 100 feet to the ground. “Why then there was n o notable black smoke in view?”
    When there is a fire black smoke rises. is someone assuming the wreck helicopter burned?


    1. Michael D Mann January 1, 2020 3:43 pm Reply

      What possible reason would they have to make such an assumption? They were able to recover the remains of some of the people involved, so it would stand to reason that they actually saw the wreckage and the clear evidence of a fire. I don’t see what would be gained by stating something like this if there were no evidence to support it.


    2. Debra Kekaualua January 2, 2020 8:11 am Reply

      Excellent point, paying attention is what most people miss All day Every way. There is in my humble estimation proof that this was a “planned” tragic accident. Noted that the military on our little island is the “baddest” usN usAF on the planet with capabilities we are just know learning about and that also parallels “oops”, not a drill, microwave DEW, submarine caves, and killing machines on the Wide! We have been connecting the umbilical cord dots to California and back, and no one is going to get out alive, if we don’t stop this military complex dead in THEIR own deceitful guilty stolen mailbox sidetracks!


    3. Twintail January 3, 2020 1:03 pm Reply

      The aircraft was reported missing after sunset in questionable weather. It is likely that with low clouds/rain and no light that any smoke would have been impossible to see. Also, very likely no air assets were deployed the evening of the crash and the fire would have been out by morning.


  2. David Gardener January 1, 2020 2:01 pm Reply

    Manongindahadow0711,

    Since the tour company did not report the chopper as missing until 45 minutes after it failed to return on schedule, at least an hour to an hour and a half would have passed before Coast Guard would be searching above the Napali coast.

    Since most of the helicopter is made of metal and the lush foliage surrounding the crash site has been very wet for weeks, the only items flammable would not supply enough material to burn beyond the time the jet fuel itself was exhausted.

    If there was any smoke, it would not have lasted very long at all.


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