NTSB Preliminary Report Released into Kaua‘i Tour Helicopter Crash

January 15, 2020, 1:10 PM HST · Updated January 15, 1:10 PM
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A preliminary accident report released by the National Transportation Safety Board was released today, detailing initial findings involving a fatal tour helicopter crash on Kauaʻi that claimed the lives of seven on board last month.

The report notes that the accident flight was the pilot’s eighth and last scheduled 50-minute aerial tour flight of the day.

The flight departed from Līhuʻe Airport at 4:31 p.m. and is believed to have crashed at around 4:57 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019.

The NTSB report states that the Airbus AS350 B2 helicopter, operated by Safari Aviation (dba Safari Helicopters), was destroyed on impact forces and a post-crash fire when it collided with terrain about 24 miles northwest of Līhuʻe.

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The commercial pilot and six passengers were fatally injured.  Kauaʻi police had identified those aboard as:

  • The pilot, 69-year-old Paul Matero of Wailua; and
  • a family from Switzerland: 50-year-old Sylvie Winteregg, 49-year-old Christophe Winteregg, 13-year-old Alice Winteregg and 10-year-old Agathe Winteregg; and
  • two of the other passengers: 47-year-old Amy Gannon and 13-year-old Jocelyn Gannon of Madison, Wisconsin.

According to the preliminary NTSB report, an air tour pilot from a different company reported that he heard the accident pilot report “Upper Mic,” at around 4:32 p.m., which was a compulsory air tour reporting point that indicated the accident helicopter was exiting the Waimea Canyon and beginning a transition over to the Nā Pali coastline via Kōkeʻe State Park.

At around 5:31 p.m., 10 minutes after the accident helicopter was due to arrive back at Līhuʻe Airport, an employee for Safari Helicopters notified the company’s director of operations that the helicopter was overdue, and flight-locating procedures began.

An extensive search was initiated and included personnel from Safari Helicopters, the US Coast Guard, the Kauaʻi Fire Department, the Kauaʻi Police Department, the Civil Air Patrol and the Hawaiʻi Air National Guard.

The following day, on Dec. 27, at around 9:32 a.m., the accident site was located within the Kōkeʻe State Park. The NTSB report note that the helicopter impacted tropical mountainous terrain on a north facing slope at an elevation of about 3,003 feet and came to rest at an elevation of about 2,900 feet.

“All of the helicopter’s major components were located within the debris field, and the wreckage was largely consumed by a post-crash fire,” the report said.

A witness located about 1.5 to 1.75 miles up the Nuʻalolo Trail within the Kōkeʻe State Park near the time of the accident reported weather conditions of about 20-foot visibility in rain and fog. He heard what he described as “a hovering helicopter followed by a high-pitched whine,” according to the NTSB preliminary report.  “Knowing something was wrong, he attempted to locate the helicopter but was unable due to the adverse weather conditions and fading daylight,” according to the NTSB report.

Typical tour route to Upper Mic with approximate accident site and witness location depicted. The NTSB notes that the helicopter did not have flight tracking equipment on board, so the exact flight path is unavailable. PC: NTSB accident report / Google earth.

The closest official weather observation station to the accident site was Barking Sands Pacific Missile Range Facility, located about nine miles southwest of the accident site. The 4:56 p.m. observation reported: wind from 310° at 12 knots, gusting to 15 knots; 10 statute miles visibility; few clouds at 1,200 ft, broken clouds at 3,400 ft and 4,700 ft, overcast clouds at 6,000 ft; temperature 70°F; dew point 57°F; and an altimeter setting of 29.90 inches of mercury.

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