Safari pilot had licensed revoked

LIHUE — The pilot of the helicopter that went down near Koke‘e a month ago had his license revoked by the Federal Aviation Administration in 2010 for drug use but was issued new certifications a year later and rehired after completing a substance abuse treatment program.

FAA spokesperson Ian Gregor said Tuesday that in June 2010, the administration revoked the medical, commercial pilot and flight instructor certificates of former Safari Helicopter pilot Paul Matero, who died along with all six passengers aboard the sightseeing tour helicopter that crashed into a cliff on Dec. 26.

After a mandatory one-year waiting period, Matero applied for and received new licenses, according to Gregor.

On June 30, 2011, the FAA issued him commercial and private pilots licenses along with “special-issuance” medical certificates, which Gregor said are valid for short periods of time, allowing the administration to require pilots to show they are continuing to address their condition.

Matero’s conditional certificates expired in March 2012, at which time the FAA gave him back his standard permit, something Gregor said is only done for pilots who fail drug tests after they complete a substance abuse treatment program and “demonstrate sobriety for an extended period.”

Safari’s owner, Preston Myers, declined to comment directly on the matter— the company recently hired communications firm Dix and Eaton to handle media inquiries — but a spokesperson said Matero was rehired and placed back on flight duty after getting his license back in 2011.

The Safari spokesperson said Tuesday that Matero flew around 5,000 hours in compliance with federal regulations since that time but did not respond to questions about the decision to reinstate a pilot suffering from addiction only a year after he failed a drug test.

FAA records provided to The Garden Island on Tuesday show Safari Helicopters was cited five times between 2000 and 2010.

In May 2000, the Safari violated five federal regulations related to aircraft maintenance records and requiring aircraft that have undergone maintenance to get appropriate authorization before returning to flight. In 2005, Safari was cited for violating hazardous material regulations.

A mechanic failed a drug test a few months after the company was cited for its maintenance records. The FAA took no administrative action in that case. Another Safari mechanic, Aaron Moniz, had his license revoked in 2005 after a failed drug test. He was issued a mechanics certification in 2010 and does not have a current pilots license, according to FAA records.

TGI has requested full reports from the FAA detailing Safari’s federal violations.

In 2001 Myers, then a pilot, as well as owner of Safari Helicopters, was preparing to take off in the very same helicopter that went down in December, when he suddenly lost control of the machine during routine preflight checks while still on the ground at Lihue Airport, according to National Transportation Safety Board records.

In the NTSB pilot accident report, Myers said the helicopter suddenly “became airborne in nose low altitude.” He tried to pull the aircraft around to face the wind and attempted to take off, hoping to pick up speed and regain control of the aircraft.

The helicopter responded by tilting back and to the side, immediately going into, what Myers described as, “a figure 8 type of oscillation,” with the nose rapidly pitching up and down “in extreme, almost-wing-over attitudes.” The helicopter’s rotors and tail were badly damaged in the crash but it was repaired and returned to flight.

“Safari Helicopters remains committed to complete and thorough implementation of all regulations. We also continue to support and participate in the NTSB investigation of this recent tragic loss,” the statement from Safari said on Tuesday. “The FAA and its inspectors have been and remain welcome at Safari at any time of their choosing.”

This story has been edited to reflect accuracy.

8 Comments
  1. Thomas T. Sakiyama February 5, 2020 3:34 am Reply

    I have enjoyed annual visits to Kauai for twenty years. I love aviation and I love air tours. I review safety records before I book and never found the references shared in this article about Safari. I’ve done 9 air tours and did not fly choose Safari based on comments they have flown when the tour was flown when too much of the tour hampered by iffy weather. I have noted that the accidents on Kauai were flown by pilots who had many hours. The pilot, in this case, had flown 5000 hours since being reinstated. I hope follow-up article might include information about the last 10 years of this firm’s records AND how we tourist can get such information about any company we are considering.

    Beat of Hawaii has raised concerns about the Robinson 400 tours with two fatals on the island in a year, tour on Oahu and instructional flight off Maui by a tour firm. Any investigation into types of aircraft involved would also be of interest to me.


  2. Wally Roberts February 5, 2020 3:39 am Reply

    Is riding a tour helicopter on Kauai, the Grand Canyon, or any other scenic location, worth the risk? Not for me. I doubt the family members of those who perished with Kobe in California would be ready for a tour helicopter ride, either.


  3. Rev Dr. Malama February 5, 2020 6:19 am Reply

    The FAA SHOULD SHUT ALL UNNECESSARY FLIGHTS DOWN AND COMPLETE THE PROPER VETTING OF MACHINES AND OPERATORS FOR THE SAKE OF THE COMMUNITY SAFETY AND SANITY!


  4. tunataxi February 5, 2020 8:17 am Reply

    Are we really going to trash this pilots reputation with with something from his past ?? Fact is he was certified to fly again. Unless they find drugs in his remains this is nothing more than slander.


  5. kaaona kipuka February 5, 2020 9:14 am Reply

    Terrible reporting. Absolutely no tact what so ever. Just continuing to drag this gentleman’s name through the mud to get people to buy your sorry newspaper… So sad…


  6. Bill February 5, 2020 10:00 am Reply

    I don’t understand why this needed to be posted. This happened 10 years ago. Have some respect for the mans family, children, wife and friends that miss and love him. Have some respect.


  7. Vicky February 5, 2020 9:49 pm Reply

    Taking about a pilot that is died that can’t even back himself up. Sad! TGI The nerve for you to have this story posted!!! Let the pilot and passengers Rest In Peace. What is going to accomplish?? People chang! Yes he did drugs. 10 TEN years ago! Smh


  8. IKUDIAS February 6, 2020 4:25 am Reply

    WOW LAULAU!, It’s not like he grabbed a couple of tinder hookups, and a huge bag of pot and headed off….too bad they pulled your article the day after


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