Drones documenting wreckage

LIHUE — Investigators aren’t going to physically set foot on the crash site of the tour helicopter that collided with a ridge on Kauai in December, killing all seven passengers.

Instead, the National Transportation Safety Board is using drone footage and photographs to document and analyze the wreckage, said NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss on Thursday.

Weiss said it was the best and the “safest” option they had to gather as much information as possible in a short timeframe.

Other options for NTSB investigators included a hike through the brush that would require chopping a trail through the jungle for four to eight hours one-way, or to short-haul in with a helicopter, with investigators attached to a tether and dropped down to the crash site.

“Usually what happens is NTSB investigators go to the crash site, take detailed measurements and photographs, look around at tree strikes and ground scars and other witness marks to really get a sense of the crash scene,” Weiss said.

But after a drone team got footage and a series of detailed photographs were taken from the air, investigators have what they need, he said.

“That, along with the information gathered in an over-flight of the flight path, gave our investigators enough confidence to answer questions,” Weiss said.

The wreckage itself is being moved via helicopter to an unnamed and secure location for further investigation. That’s going to give other agencies, like representatives from Airbus helicopters, the chance to analyze the engine and other properties of the wreckage.

“They’re waiting on the weather to begin recovery operations,” Weiss said.

Officials say a report with initial results will be released in coming weeks and will most likely include weather information.

According to NTSB, investigators occasionally do investigations without setting foot on the wreckage site, particularly when aircraft land in the water or rough terrain that is difficult to reach.

“It’s not infrequent,” Weiss said.

The Safari tour helicopter crashed Dec. 26, hitting a ridge in the Nu‘alolo Kai area at an altitude of 2,900 feet and falling about 100 feet before a post-crash fire engulfed the wreckage, according to NTSB.

The Airbus AS350 B2 helicopter was piloted by 69-year-old Wailua resident Paul Matero, who flew 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; and Swiss family of four: 50-year-old Sylvie Winteregg, 49-year-old Christophe Winteregg, 13-year-old Alice Winteregg and 10-year-old Agathe Winteregg.

All seven sets of remains have been retrieved from the crash site, according to officials.

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