Maui News

UPDATE: Six Sets of Remains Recovered from Tour Helicopter Wreckage in Kōke‘e, Kaua‘i

December 26, 2019, 9:48 PM HST
* Updated December 27, 6:39 PM
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Update: 4:15 p.m., Friday, Dec. 27, 2019

Crews have recovered six sets of remains from a downed helicopter in steep terrain in the remote Kōkeʻe area of Kauaʻi. County officials confirmed the finding during an afternoon press conference saying there are no indications of any survivors.

There were a total of seven individuals aboard the flight including a pilot and six passengers.  Authorities say the passengers included two family sets–a party of two and a party of four.  Earlier reports from the Coast Guard had indicated that there were two minors listed as passengers.

Sol Kanoho, Kaua‘i Fire Department, Battalion Chief said the department suspended its operations at 3:30 p.m. on Friday due to poor visibility and intend to resume operations at first light tomorrow, weather permitting.

BC Kanoho said crews are in the process of notifying next of kin and are not releasing names at this time. The remains have since been transported to Wilcox Hospital and a pathologist is en route.

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“We are heartbroken by this tragedy and we continue to ask the public to consider the sensitive nature of this devastating situation,” said Mayor Derek S. K. Kawakami. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of all victims during this extremely difficult time.”

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The DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) has closed a portion of Public Hunting Unit H in the Pu‘u ka Pele Forest Reserve on the west side of Kaua‘i until further notice. The closed portion of the hunting unit is bounded by Makaha Ridge Rd., Kōkeʻe Rd., Nualolo Trail and the coastline. Please note that Miloli‘i Road and Nu’alolo trail within this area are both closed.  This is due to continuing search and recovery efforts associated with a helicopter crash in the Kōkeʻe area.

DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement officers will be stationed at entry points to inform hunters and others.

Authorities say an NTSB investigator is traveling to Kauaʻi from Alaska.

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Update: 2:04 p.m., Friday, Dec. 27, 2019

Kaua‘i County officials held a press conference this afternoon to provide updates on the tour helicopter that went missing on Thursday evening.  Sol Kanoho, Kaua‘i Fire Department, Battalion Chief said debris from the missing helicopter was located at approximately 9:30 a.m. on Friday, in a remote area of Kōkeʻe.

“At this time we have no actionable information on the status of the passengers,” said BC Kanoho during the press conference.  “Our ground and air crews continue to search for survivors.  In addition to searching for survivors, we are focusing on identifying and establishing contact with family members of the passengers on the flight manifest.”

There was a total of seven people aboard the flight including the pilot and six passengers.  This includes two family sets–a party of two and a party of four, according to BC Kanoho.  Earlier reports from the Coast Guard had indicated that there were two minors listed as passengers.

According to BC Kanoho, the NTSB has been notified and the lead investigator is en route.  Upon the fire department’s request, the FAA has issued a temporary flight restriction in the vicinity of the search area.

Fire officials say the debris was found on a prescribed route where tour helicopters normally fly.

Authorities could not confirm any cause or theory for why the crash occurred, but did note that prior to the incident the island did experience bad weather.

Mayor Derek Kawakami offered his “sincerest thoughts and prayers,” to the family members and friends of all of those involved, saying the county is sending out as many resources as possible.

Update: 11:55 a.m., Friday, Dec. 27, 2019

The crash site of the helicopter missing since Thursday afternoon has been confirmed found in Kōke‘e near Nu‘alolo on the island of Kaua‘i.

Seven individuals were on the flight, including one pilot and six passengers.

Kaua‘i officials say additional resources are on the way and the search for survivors is ongoing.

“First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with the families of these passengers,” said Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami in a statement. “Operations continue and we are doing everything we can at this time.”

At approximately 6 p.m. Thursday, officials were notified of an overdue Safari Helicopter that was conducting a tour over the Nā Pali area. The helicopter was scheduled to arrive around 5:30 p.m. at the Līhu‘e landing pad.

According to a preliminary report, “the last contact with the helicopter was made at approximately 4:40 p.m., when the pilot relayed that the tour was leaving the Waimea Canyon area.”

County officials plan to hold a press conference update to provide further details at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 28.

Upon notification, a multi-agency search was launched Thursday night with the US Coast Guard responding via air and sea, and personnel from the Kaua‘i Fire Department, Kaua‘i Police Department, Department of Land and Natural Resources, Hawai‘i Air National Guard, and Pacific Missile Range Facility joining the effort on land.

Search operations continued early Friday morning with air searches being conducted by the Kaua‘i Fire Department, Kauai Police Department, the US Coast Guard, the US Navy, Civil Air Patrol, and private helicopter companies.

*Check back for updates.

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Update: 11:24 a.m., Friday, Dec. 27, 2019

The wreckage of a missing tour helicopter on Kauaʻi has reportedly been located, according to reports out of Hawaii News Now.  Maui Now reached out to County officials who said they are preparing information for distribution shortly.  According to the HNN report, which cited “multiple sources,” the wreckage was found in the Nualolo area and authorities “fear that there were no survivors.”

A similar report from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser quoted Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami and said “the search for survivors is ongoing.”

We are awaiting an official statement from Kauaʻi County. Details are due out shortly.

County officials have since identified the missing helicopter as belonging to Safari Helicopters, saying the last contact with the helicopter was made at approximately 4:40 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019, when the pilot relayed that the tour was leaving the Waimea Canyon area.

The helicopter, with six passengers and a pilot on board, was scheduled to arrive around 5:30 p.m. at the Līhu‘e landing pad. Coast Guard officials had indicated that two of the passengers were listed as minors.

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Update: 6:27 a.m., Friday, Dec. 27, 2019

The Coast Guard continues its search today for a commercial helicopter that went missing on Thursday evening on Kauaʻi.  Crews are establishing an incident command post on this island this morning.

The helicopter had one pilot and six passengers aboard, including two minors.

“The search continues for the seven people and any sign of the aircraft on Kauaʻi,” said Lt. Chloe Harmon, command duty officer, Coast Guard Joint Rescue Coordination Center Honolulu. “We appreciate the substantial assistance of our partners to continue the search overnight and maximize search efforts in the area.”

Governor David Ige issued a statement this morning saying, “We are currently coordinating with federal and local agencies and are ready to deploy state resources as needed to help in the search effort.”

The Dolphin helicopter crew conducted three search patterns for the evening along the northwest portion of Kauaʻi. The HSM-37 Seahawk crew flew a five-hour search of the northwest shoreline area. So far, there are no signs of the helicopter.

Upon notification, just after 6 p.m. Thursday of the overdue helicopter, Coast Guard watchstanders at JRCC Honolulu initiated an Urgent Marine Information Broadcast, launched a Coast Guard Dolphin aircrew, contacted DoD for HSM-37 Seahawk support, and launched the William Hart.

The Kauaʻi Fire Department was contacted and is coordinating ground searches of the shoreline. Barking Sands Security also organized ATV searches of the coastline.

A Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules airplane crew and MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew from Air Station Barbers Point is conducting first light searches. A Coast Guard Station Kauaʻi 45-foot Response Boat-Medium crew also arrives on the scene at first light today.

The Coast Guard Cutter William Hart (WPC 1134) will arrive in the search area around 8:30 a.m. The US Navy Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 37 MH-60R Seahawk helicopter crew will launch for a search at 9 a.m. Further Department of Defense air support, with the approval of the Pacific Air Forces, has come from the Civil Air Patrol for additional search efforts in the morning.

In addition to military support, Kauaʻi Fire Department is coordinating local efforts from the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Kauaʻi National Guard, and commercial helicopter support. KFD will also provide their Air-1 helicopter for inland canyon searches beginning at first light.

Friday’s forecast includes continued winds around 28 mph with wind waves at seven feet, a northwest swell of six feet, and scattered rain showers. A small craft advisory is in effect for the waters around Kauaʻi and northwest Oʻahu.

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The Coast Guard is searching for seven people overdue aboard a tour helicopter on Kauaʻi, Thursday.

“The weather conditions are challenging. We have trained crews responding and on scene searching for any signs of the helicopter and those aboard,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Robert Cox, Coast Guard Joint Rescue Command Center Honolulu.

The owner of an overdue tour helicopter contacted watchstanders at JRCC Honolulu at 6:06 p.m. They stated the aircraft was due back at 5:21 p.m. from a tour of Kauaʻi’s Nā Pali Coast with one pilot and six passengers. Two of the six passengers are reportedly minors. The aircraft is equipped with an electronic locator, but no signals have been received.

The watchstanders directed the launch of an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter and crew from Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point, currently on scene searching, and coordinated for additional support from the US Navy Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 37 at Kaneohe Bay for just after midnight. They also directed the launch of the Coast Guard Cutter William Hart (WPC 1134) and crew from homeport in Honolulu.

Further searches are scheduled with a Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules airplane and crew and a fresh Dolphin helicopter crew at first light if needed.

Weather on scene is reportedly four miles visibility due to clouds and rain. Winds are at 28 mph. Friday’s forecast predicts continued winds around 23 mph with wind waves at six feet and scattered rain showers.

The Coast Guard reports that nearly 80 percent of Kauaʻi is uninhabited, and much of that is a state park. Kauaʻi’s natural beauty is accessed or viewed daily by visitors aboard helicopters from several tour companies depending on the weather. Common points of interest include Jurassic Park Falls, the Hanapēpē Valley, Waimea Canyon, the Nā Pali Coast, the Hanalei Valley, and Mt. Waiʻaleʻale.

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Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park. Note: While the helicopter was likely returning from a Nā Pali Coast tour, it crashed at the top of the mountain.  PC: file Hawaiʻi DLNR.

Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park. Note: While the helicopter was likely returning from a Nā Pali Coast tour, it crashed at the top of the mountain.  PC: file Hawaiʻi DLNR.

Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park. Note: While the helicopter was likely returning from a Nā Pali Coast tour, it crashed at the top of the mountain.  PC: file Hawaiʻi DLNR.

Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park. Note: While the helicopter was likely returning from a Nā Pali Coast tour, it crashed at the top of the mountain.  PC: file Hawaiʻi DLNR.

Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park. Note: While the helicopter was likely returning from a Nā Pali Coast tour, it crashed at the top of the mountain.  PC: file Hawaiʻi DLNR.

Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park. Note: While the helicopter was likely returning from a Nā Pali Coast tour, it crashed at the top of the mountain.  PC: file Hawaiʻi DLNR.

Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park. Note: While the helicopter was likely returning from a Nā Pali Coast tour, it crashed at the top of the mountain.  PC: file Hawaiʻi DLNR.

Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park. Note: While the helicopter was likely returning from a Nā Pali Coast tour, it crashed at the top of the mountain.  PC: file Hawaiʻi DLNR.

Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park. Note: While the helicopter was likely returning from a Nā Pali Coast tour, it crashed at the top of the mountain.  PC: file Hawaiʻi DLNR.

Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park. Note: While the helicopter was likely returning from a Nā Pali Coast tour, it crashed at the top of the mountain.  PC: file Hawaiʻi DLNR.

Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park. Note: While the helicopter was likely returning from a Nā Pali Coast tour, it crashed at the top of the mountain.  PC: file Hawaiʻi DLNR.

Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park. Note: While the helicopter was likely returning from a Nā Pali Coast tour, it crashed at the top of the mountain.  PC: file Hawaiʻi DLNR.

Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park. Note: While the helicopter was likely returning from a Nā Pali Coast tour, it crashed at the top of the mountain.  PC: file Hawaiʻi DLNR.

Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park. Note: While the helicopter was likely returning from a Nā Pali Coast tour, it crashed at the top of the mountain.  PC: file Hawaiʻi DLNR.

Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park. Note: While the helicopter was likely returning from a Nā Pali Coast tour, it crashed at the top of the mountain.  PC: file Hawaiʻi DLNR.

Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park. Note: While the helicopter was likely returning from a Nā Pali Coast tour, it crashed at the top of the mountain.  PC: file Hawaiʻi DLNR.

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