FAA Flight Standards District Office: FAA Honolulu FSDO-13
NTSB Identification: WPR17LA005
Scheduled 14 CFR Part 135: Air Taxi & Commuter
Accident occurred Tuesday, October 04, 2016 in Waimea, HI
Aircraft: MCDONNELL DOUGLAS HELICOPTER 369E, registration: N311VT
Injuries: 3 Uninjured.
This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.
On October 4, 2016, about 0910 Hawaiian standard time, a McDonnell Douglas Helicopter (MDHI) 369E N311VT, sustained substantial damage to the main rotor during initial climb from a remote location at Kohala Mountains near Waimea, Hawaii. The commercial pilot and 2 passengers were not injured. The helicopter was registered to, and operated by Volcano Helicopters Inc. under the provision of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 135. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight which operated on a company flight plan.
The pilot reported that he had completed transportation of an external load to a remote location. After landing, 2 passengers boarded the helicopter, and the pilot took off back to a staging area. Prior to take-off, he jettisoned a 20 foot longline used to transport a load from the cargo hook by pressing the hook release switch. During the initial climb, at about 75-100 feet above ground level, the pilot experienced a moderate aberration in the cyclic flight control, followed by a significant vertical vibration, and observed that the main rotor blade track had a substantial blade spread. The pilot performed a precautionary landing to a nearby suitable area.
During a post-accident examination, it was noted that a portion of one of the main rotor blade tips was missing, and that the blade was bent aft. Additionally, 3 blades exhibited scratch marks on their respective leading edges. Furthermore, the longline was not found in the helicopter nor was it recovered at the site.
The helicopter has been recovered to a secure location.
The McDonnell Douglas 369E, with the pilot and two passengers, set down on the north slope of the mountain near Waimanu Valley, according to Hawaii County Fire Battalion Chief Darwin Okinaka, who said his crew staged at Hawaii Preparatory Academy in Waimea after receiving the alarm at 9:26 a.m.
“It was so remote only our helicopter was able to get up there, so we were staging down below, waiting in the event there were injuries … but no one was injured, so they were extricated to where their own private vehicles were parked,” Okinaka said.
Okinaka said he was told the rotorcraft experienced “heavy vibrations” before the pilot executed the emergency landing.
“It landed on the skids. It didn’t roll or anything, so he was able to land it safely,” he said. “There was some damage to the rotors. I believe the tail rotor was damaged from the landing, but I don’t know what damaged the main rotor. The fuselage was intact.”
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said the agency will investigate. He provided the tail number of the copter, which is owned by Volcano Helicopters in Hilo. The helicopter’s airworthiness date is March 19, 1987, and its current certification was issued Feb. 5, 2004, and expires July 31, 2019, according to the FAA website.
Volcano Helicopters owner David Okita confirmed that he was the pilot, and the flight was contracted by Kohala Watershed Partnership, a public/private partnership administered by the Kohala Center, but declined further comment.
“The helicopter is still at its location. I don’t know what the plan to retrieve it is,” said Kohala Center spokesman Liam Kernell.
Kernell didn’t identify the passengers and said he didn’t know the flight’s purpose.
“Our crew does go out to inaccessible areas of Kohala Mountain to do fence monitoring and repairs and invasive species control from time to time. But I don’t know what the purpose of the particular mission was (Tuesday).
“All I know is that it landed on the top of Waimanu and that fire and EMS came and got everybody out and there were no injuries reported. The crew’s obviously a little shaken. … We’re getting together (Wednesday) morning to do a little debrief, so we’ll know a few more details then.”
Kernell said those aboard were instructed to go to the emergency room for a physical check-up.
“Everybody says they’re fine; they look fine. But we can’t say 100 percent without a doctor giving them a clean bill of health,” he said.
The landing site was in or near Puu O Umi Natural Reserve Area, which is administered by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, but no one, including the DLNR, could answer Wednesday whether the chopper landed on state or private property.