Friday, December 27, 2019

Eurocopter AS350 B2 Ecureuil, N985SA: Fatal accident occurred December 26, 2019 in Lihue, Hawaii

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.

Whistleblower Allegations of Misconduct at the FAA Flight Standards District Office in Honolulu, Hawaii

January 31, 2020

In June of 2019, investigative staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation received information from a whistleblower alleging misconduct by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) managers at the Flight Standards District Office in Honolulu, Hawaii. This initial whistleblower, an FAA employee, alleged that FAA managers too frequently overrode the recommendations of inspectors, hampering the ability of inspectors to conduct effective oversight. The whistleblower also alleged that at least one manager issued improper check ride certifications. The whistleblower indicated that his/her knowledge was indirect but well known by local employees and representatives of the Professional Aviation Safety Specialist (PASS) union.

On July 31, 2019, Chairman Wicker sent a letter to then-Acting FAA Administrator Elwell requesting documents that included information specific to allegations of misconduct in Hawai’i. On September 5, 2019, committee staff provided the FAA a prioritized request for certain items included in the July letter. This prioritized request again included information regarding a specific aviation company in Hawaii.

A second FAA employee whistleblower contacted the committee in December 2019, with allegations of misconduct at the same FAA office. The whistleblower, Joseph Monfort, expressly agreed to be publicly identified. Mr. Monfort has provided several protected disclosures to the committee and has filed a whistleblower retaliation complaint with the Office of Special Counsel. Mr. Monfort served 20 years in the United States Army and retired as a warrant officer helicopter pilot. He began his FAA career in 2009, and has worked as a principal operations inspector in Hawai’i. Mr. Monfort alleges that some managers in the Hawai’i FAA office have an inappropriately close relationship with Novictor Aviation, a helicopter tour operator in Hawai’i. According to Mr. Monfort, these FAA managers have granted multiple policy deviations for Novictor. The committee notes that three Novictor crashes have occurred in the last two years, one of which resulted in three deaths.

Operations of small non-commercial aircraft, excluding on-demand charter flights or air tours, are governed by Part 91 of title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Part 91 is generally less restrictive when it comes to safety requirements. Certain exceptions for some commercial operators allow them to operate under Part 91 instead of the more stringent safety standards found in Part 135, which generally applies to on-demand charter flights and air tours. The National Transportation Safety Board has a long history of concerns about the safety of Part 91 air tour operations and has recently recommended eliminating the exemption that allows certain air tours to operate under Part 91.

On November 2, 2018, local FAA management revoked Novictor’s Letter of Authorization to operate under FAA Regulation Part 91, citing the company’s accident history and lack of verifiable safety measures, according to Mr. Monfort. As a result, Novictor was required to operate under Part 135. On November 20, 2018, Mr. Monfort’s Front Line Manager (FLM) at the FAA, Darett Kanayama, granted check airman authority to the owner and operator of Novictor, Nicole Vandelaar. The committee notes that in 2017 Ms. Vandelaar had been prohibited from receiving Part 135 check airman authority by the Manager of the Regional Flight Standards Division. Mr. Monfort alleges this prohibition was due to a lack of qualifications, including the 14 CFR Part 119.71 requirement that Directors of Operations have three years of managerial experience within the last six years.

As a principal operations inspector, Mr. Monfort was assigned to conduct oversight of Novictor Aviation. On April 29, 2019, a tour helicopter operated by Novictor crashed on a residential street in Kailua, on the island of O’ahu, killing all three aboard.[4] Mr. Monfort began an investigation into the crash, which revealed that Ms. Vandelaar had received her check airman certification from Mr. Kanayama improperly. According to Mr. Monfort, Ms.Vandelaar was improperly certified to administer check rides on behalf of the FAA, but subsequently gave a check ride to the pilot involved in the April 29th crash 10 days before the accident. Mr. Monfort proceeded to revoke Ms. Vandelaar’s check airman authorization by letter on May 3, 2019. Later that day, Mr. Monfort was removed from the investigation by his Assistant Manager, Michael Heenan. Mr. Monfort’s workload was cited as the reason for his removal. Documents reviewed by committee staff corroborate these claims by Mr. Monfort.

In a previous episode involving Novictor, Mr. Monfort became aware that a Novictor helicopter had made an emergency landing near Wahiawa, Hawai’i, on September 18, 2018, damaging the aircraft. Novictor, according to Mr. Monfort, did not notify the local FAA office per normal procedure. FAA inspectors only learned of the event when an inspector happened to see the damaged helicopter being transported near the local FAA office with the tail number taped over. A subsequent investigation into the emergency landing found that the accident occurred due to poor maintenance practices and pilot error. When these findings were entered into the FAA database that tracks these incidents, a process that is approved by the FLM, the pilot and operator fields were left blank by the staff assigned to input data. According to Mr. Monfort, this is highly unusual and appeared to be an effort to obscure attribution of the incident to the pilot and Novictor. As a result, a search of the FAA’s internal accident database for “Novictor” or the pilot’s name does not reveal this incident. Mr. Monfort alleges that this discrepancy in the FAA incident report is evidence of an effort by Novictor and/or FAA employees to divert attribution of this incident away from Novictor Helicopters LLC.

Mr. Monfort was also assigned to conduct oversight of Safari Aviation, Inc., a helicopter tour operator located on the island of Kaua’i. In September and November of 2019, Mr. Monfort requested two travel authorizations to proceed to Kaua’i to conduct an inspection of Safari Aviation. Both requests were denied by FAA managers, making it next to impossible for Mr. Monfort to perform adequate FAA oversight. On December 26, 2019, a Safari Aviation tour helicopter crashed, killing seven.[5] In 2016, Mr. Monfort had initiated a review of Safari’s training program due to deficiencies he noted in a check ride with the pilot involved in the December 26, 2019, crash.

During these episodes, Mr. Monfort repeatedly appealed to senior management in his office to have his direct manager’s decisions overturned. Mr. Monfort alleges that as a result, he received two separate suspensions that amount to whistleblower retaliation. Mr. Monfort has filed a whistleblower retaliation complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.

On December 18, 2019, after not receiving any documents in response to previous requests about FAA aviation safety in Hawai’i, committee staff submitted an inquiry to counsel for the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) about the production status of the documents prioritized on September 5, 2019. The agency indicated the request was in process. Committee staff emphasized the importance of the specific Hawai’i request and further focused the request by providing an FAA enforcement file number that had been provided by Mr. Monfort. Eight days later, while committee staff awaited the production of these documents, the December 26th Safari Aviation crash occurred, killing seven.

On January 17, 2020, committee staff received a tranche of documents in response to the previous and prioritized requests. Of the 157 pages received, only five were substantively related to the prioritized topic of Hawai’i. These five pages identified several relevant attachments that were not provided to the committee. This document production did not provide all documents related to the specific FAA enforcement case file requested on December 18, 2019.

On January 22, 2020, committee staff learned that Mr. Monfort was being re-interviewed by an FAA Special Agent in regards to a previously investigated matter from 2018 in which he alleged deficiencies in a Part 135 operator’s training program. Additionally, Mr. Monfort was recently notified that he will be interviewed by FAA and DOT attorneys in February 2020, regarding a fatal helicopter accident he investigated in October of 2017. Mr. Monfort reports increasing pressure by his FAA managers to revise findings of his Novictor investigations.

The committee’s thorough investigation and review of available documents lends credibility to Mr. Monfort’s disclosures and appears to corroborate many of his allegations. This review, while incomplete and not yet conclusive, raises significant concerns about the efficacy of FAA oversight in Hawai’i. As a result, Chairman Wicker has requested that the Inspector General for the Department of Transportation conduct a thorough investigation into these allegations of regulatory violations and whistleblower retaliation.

The National Transportation Safety Board traveled to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entity: 
Federal Aviation Administration; Washington, District of Columbia

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

Location: Lihue, HI
Accident Number: ANC20MA010
Date & Time: 12/26/2019, 1657 HST
Registration: N985SA
Aircraft: AIRBUS AS350B2
Injuries: 7 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 135: Air Taxi & Commuter - Non-scheduled - Sightseeing 

On December 26, 2019, about 1657 Hawaii standard time, an Airbus AS350 B2 helicopter, N985SA, was destroyed by impact forces and a postcrash fire when it collided with terrain about 24 miles northwest of Lihue, Hawaii. The commercial pilot and six passengers were fatally injured. The helicopter was registered to SAF LTD and operated by Safari Aviation Inc., doing business as Safari Helicopters, as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 135 on-demand commercial air tour flight. Company flight following procedures were in effect for the visual flight rules flight, which departed Lihue Airport (PHLI), Lihue, Hawaii at 1631.

The accident flight was the pilot's eighth and last scheduled 50-minute aerial tour flight of the day. About 1632, the pilot radioed Safari Helicopters' headquarters reporting a departure time of 1631. Shortly thereafter, another company pilot heard the accident pilot report his position at "Tree Tunnel," an air tour reporting point, on the common traffic advisory frequency.

About 1645, an air tour pilot from a different company reported that he heard the accident pilot report "Upper Mic," 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 Na Pali coastline via Koke'e State Park.

About 1731, ten minutes after the accident helicopter was due to arrive back at PHLI, the flight follower 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 search operations were conducted by personnel from Safari Helicopters, the US Coast Guard, the Kauai Fire Department, the Kauai Police Department, the Civil Air Patrol, and the Hawaii Air National Guard.

On December 27, about 0932, the accident site was located within the Koke'e State Park. The helicopter impacted tropical mountainous terrain on a north facing slope at an elevation of about 3,003 ft mean sea level (msl) and came to rest at an elevation of about 2,900 ft msl. All of the helicopter's major components were located within the debris field, and the wreckage was largely consumed by a postcrash fire.

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

The figure below shows a typical tour route via Tree Tunnel to Upper Mic, as described by Safari Helicopters. The accident site is noted in the upper left portion of the figure. As the accident helicopter did not have flight tracking equipment onboard, the exact flight path is unavailable.

Figure 1 – Typical tour route to Upper Mic with approximate accident site and witness location depicted. 

The closest official weather observation station to the accident site was Barking Sands Pacific Missile Range Facility (PABK), Kauai, Hawaii, located about 9 miles southwest of the accident site. The 1656 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.

A PABK special weather observation at 1718 reported wind from 350° at 10 knots; 2 ½ statute miles visibility in rain and mist, overcast clouds at 3,000 ft; temperature 73°F; dew point 72°F; and an altimeter setting of 29.90 inches of mercury. 

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: AIRBUS
Registration: N985SA
Model/Series: AS350B2
Aircraft Category: Helicopter
Amateur Built: No
Operator: Safari Aviation Inc.
Operating Certificate(s) Held: On-demand Air Taxi (135) 

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site:
Condition of Light:
Observation Facility, Elevation:
Observation Time: 0256 UTC
Distance from Accident Site:
Temperature/Dew Point: 23°C / 22°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Few / 1200 ft agl
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 12 knots / , 310°
Lowest Ceiling: Broken / 3400 ft agl
Visibility:  10 Miles
Altimeter Setting: 29.9 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: Company VFR
Departure Point: Lihue, HI
Destination: Lihue, HI

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries:6 Fatal
Aircraft Fire: Unknown
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion:Unknown
Total Injuries: 7 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 22.161667, -159.626389 (est)

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board investigation may contact them by email, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email 

U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono called for an investigation into the Federal Aviation Administration following a “troubling report” that details complaints alleging the agency ignored serious concerns raised about the safety of tour helicopters in Hawaii prior to two fatal crashes.

“For the past year, we have raised concerns that the FAA has ignored warnings about the safety of aircraft operations. This report exposed troubling new accounts about how the FAA failed to take action on warnings about the safety of helicopters in Hawaii – warnings that could have saved lives,” Schatz said in a statement today. “With more than a dozen helicopter accidents in Hawaii over the last five years, it is clear that we need answers from the FAA and stronger protections to keep people safe.”

CBS News reported an FAA whistleblower claimed his bosses prevented him from conducting aircraft inspections at Safari Helicopters on Kauai prior to the December crash that killed seven people.

Joseph Monfort, an FAA employee since 2009, told Senate investigators that his FAA bosses twice denied him travel authorizations to visit the helicopter company, “making it next to impossible to perform adequate oversight.”

On December 26th, an Airbus AS350 B2 helicopter operated by Safari crashed into a cliff face in Kokee, killing the pilot and six passengers.

Another copter crash involving a Robinson R44 sightseeing helicopter operated by Novictor Helicopters crashed on Oneawa Street in Kailua on April 29th, killing the pilot and two passengers onboard.

CBS News reported the whistleblower claims “the FAA did not provide adequate oversight that could have prevented the accident.”

The Associated Press reported that a whistleblower told a Senate committee that a manager in the FAA’s Hawaii field office improperly let a helicopter tour company owner certify pilots for flight on behalf of the agency. The owner then approved a pilot, who was at the controls 10 days later in April 29 crash.

Novictor Aviation has been involved in three crashes during the past two years, according to a Jan. 24 letter from Sen. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican and chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

Two whistleblowers allege an inappropriately close relationship between FAA managers and Novictor, the AP reported.

An FAA manager, in an interview today with the AP, said the allegation that he improperly granted “check airman” status to Novictor’s owner was incorrect. He accused the whistleblower of “making up stories again.”

Allegations raised by the whistleblowers also include managers directing that investigative reports be altered, and management retaliation against an employee who reported the problems, according to the letter from Wicker to Inspector General Calvin Scovel III of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The committee says in a fact sheet on the case that its own investigation isn’t complete, but it “raises significant concerns about the efficacy of FAA oversight in Hawaii.”

Hirono said, “In the past year, Hawaii has experienced two tragic accidents involving air tour operators. Safety is a key mission of the FAA, and the whistleblower allegations that the Honolulu Flight Standards District Office knowingly failed to meet this mission deserve immediate action and a thorough investigation.”

Schatz and Hirono sent a letter today to Scovel, requesting an investigation into FAA’s alleged lack of oversight of the safety of tour helicopters in Hawaii.

“The recent air tour tragedies that have occurred in Hawaii have shaken public confidence and raised concerns with the safety of the air tour industry. The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation has released details of an investigation into helicopter safety which highlights flaws in internal FAA safety culture. The report includes a whistleblower complaint alleging that the FAA directly disregarded serious concerns about the safety of helicopter air tours in Hawaii,” Schatz and Hirono said in the letter.

“We request that you launch an investigation into the specific oversight lapses raised by the whistleblowers as it relates to helicopter operations in the State of Hawaii, as well as policies and procedures within the Office of Aviation Safety, the Western-Pacific Region, and the Hawaii Flight Standards District Offices that may result in increased risk to operators, passengers, and the general public,” they said.

In a statement to the Star-Advertiser today, the FAA said, “The FAA takes allegations of wrongdoing very seriously and prioritizes safety above all else. The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation acknowledges that its review of these allegations is “incomplete and not yet conclusive.”

“The FAA itself has been investigating these matters and is already taking steps to address substantiated concerns. As we have communicated to the Committee, we cannot comment further on any pending investigations or potential enforcement actions. The FAA will cooperate with any investigation that the Office of the Inspector General might undertake, in the interest of establishing a thorough, fact-based record upon which to base any appropriate corrective action.”

Pilot Paul Matero

Pilot Paul Matero

Investigators of the National Transportation Safety Board are working on logistics to access the wreckage site of Thursday’s deadly tour helicopter crash in a remote area of Kokee.

“The logistics (are) very, very challenging,” said NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss this morning. “We’re working on that right now.”

A Eurocopter AS350 B2 Ecureuil helicopter operated by Safari Helicopters crashed Thursday, killing seven people.

The crash site is about 1.3 miles inland where the aircraft apparently struck a cliff face before falling 50 to 100 yards, according to Kauai Fire Department Battalion Chief Solomon Konoho.

The helicopter took off from Lihue to tour the Napali Coast Thursday and was due to return at 5:21 p.m. The pilot’s last communication was at 4:40 p.m. when he relayed they were leaving the Waimea Canyon area.

Two families and the pilot were killed in crash.

Two passengers has been identified as Amy Gannon, 47, and her daughter, Jocelyn Gannon, 13, of Madison, Wis. The pilot was identified as Paul Matero, 69, of Wailua.

Four other passengers killed in the crash believed to be a family from Switzerland have yet to be identified. Police said the victims were a 50-year-old woman, 49-year-old man and two girls ages 13 and 10.

Weiss said the investigative team is slated to look for any electronic devices, examine aircraft parts and investigate surrounding areas of the crash site.

“We will look to see if there are any tree strikes or any terrain markings to the determine the path the helicopter took,” he added.

The team’s probe also involves looking into the weather conditions at the time of the crash and delving into the pilot’s training records and helicopter’s maintenance records.

Matero’s wife, Donna Dublin, has said her husband was an experienced and safety-oriented pilot who flew the Napali tour approximately four days a week.

NTSB investigators will be on Kauai for a week or possibly longer.

Weiss said a preliminary report is expected to be released within 10 days of the crash.  A final report on the probable cause can take up to 18 to 24 months to complete.

Amy and Jocelyn Gannon 
Wisconsin mother, daughter among victims of Kauai chopper crash.

Authorities have identified the pilot and two of the passengers who died in a Thursday night helicopter crash in Hawaii that is believed to have killed all seven people on board.

Kauai police say preliminary reports indicate Paul Matero, 69 of Hawaii, piloted the helicopter. Two Wisconsin residents — Amy Gannon, 47, and Jocelyn Gannon, 13 — were among the six passengers.

The names of four other passengers, believed to be a family from Switzerland, have not been released. Autopsies to confirm victims' identities have not yet been conducted, police say.

Six people's remains were found at the site of the crash Friday, but bad weather forced the search teams to suspend recovery efforts until dawn on Saturday, the Kauai police department said in a statement. Recovery efforts resumed Saturday, a later statement said.

There were no indications that any of the seven passengers survived the crash on Kauai, Fire Battalion Chief Solomon Kanoho told reporters. Earlier, authorities said two of the touring passengers were believed to be minors. 

“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.”

The helicopter went down as it was set to tour the island's dramatic Na Pali Coast. Kauai, also known as "the Garden Island," was featured in the movie "Jurassic Park."

The helicopter company, identified as Safari Helicopters, notified the U.S. Coast Guard after the chopper failed to return at its scheduled time early Thursday evening.

Authorities did not receive any signals from the helicopter's emergency electronic locator transmitter.

According to a preliminary report, the pilot said the tour was leaving the Waimea Canyon area, known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” about 4:40 p.m., which was the last contact with the helicopter, Kauai police said.

Authorities said the wreckage was found in a remote, inland part of Kokee, the sprawling, 7-square mile state park on the island's western side.

Kanoho said he could not confirm that weather may have been a factor in the crash, but noted weather can change quickly along the coast from clear skies in the morning to fog in the afternoon.

Three people from the National Transportation Security Board were expected to arrive Saturday to investigate the crash.

Pilot Paul Matero

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Remains of six of the seven people onboard a helicopter that crashed on its way back from a sightseeing tour of the Na Pali Coast have been recovered, and the search for the seventh victim is set to resume Saturday, officials confirmed in a news conference.

The seven people onboard included two children.

“There are no indications of survivors,” said Kauai Fire Department Battalion Chief Sol Kanoho, at a news conference Friday afternoon ― roughly 24 hours after the helicopter went missing.

At the same availability, a somber Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami offered his condolences to the families of the victims and called the situation over the course of the day “dynamic.”

“We ask for your continued thoughts and prayers,” he said. “We are heartbroken by this tragedy and we continue to ask the public to consider the sensitive nature of this devastating situation.”

‘No indications of survivors’ following tour helicopter crash on Kauai
First responders found the chopper wreckage about 9:30 am. Friday in a remote area of Kokee, about 13 miles north of Hanapepe. They were able to remove six sets of remains from the crash site.

But by about 3:30 p.m., fog and poor visibility forced Kauai firefighters to suspend their search for the seventh person onboard the chopper until Saturday morning.

Kanoho declined to release any details on the victims, but said in addition to the pilot, there were two groups of passengers on the chopper ― a party of two and a party of four.

NTSB is investigating

The FAA said the helicopter that went down was a Eurocopter AS350 B2. Its safety record was not immediately available.

The NTSB plans to send three investigators to Hawaii, and they’re slated to arrive over the weekend.

Kanoho said the helicopter went down on a “prescribed route” for air tours, indicating that the pilot didn’t deviate on the way back to Lihue.

The aircraft was due to return from the Na Pali Coast tour at 5:21 p.m. Thursday.

When the helicopter didn’t get back by 6 p.m., the Coast Guard was alerted and a search was launched.

According to a preliminary report, authorities made their final contact with the helicopter around 4:40 p.m., when the pilot reported that the tour was leaving the Waimea Canyon area.

‘Our thoughts are with the families’

The aircraft belongs to Safari Helicopters, a tour helicopter company based in Lihue. Company officials declined to comment Friday.

In a statement Friday afternoon, Gov. David Ige said the state has offered its support as recovery operations continue.

“Our thoughts are with the families of those onboard as search and rescue crews work at the site of the helicopter crash on Kauai," he said.

[Read more: Hawaii has seen 18 civilian helicopter crashes in the last five years]

The aircraft was equipped with an electronic locator, but it didn’t go off. After the chopper went missing, the Coast Guard launched a search by air and sea.

The Navy, Civil Air Patrol, Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Kauai National Guard, and commercial helicopters subsequently joined the search.

Petty Officer 1st Class Robert Cox, of Coast Guard Joint Rescue Command Center Honolulu, said weather conditions in the search area were “challenging" with low visibility and blustery winds.

Third helicopter crash in 2019

The incident is the third helicopter crash in Hawaii so far this year.

In April, a helicopter went down on a busy Kailua street, killing all three people onboard.

That same month, a state-contracted helicopter crashed in Sacred Falls Valley on Oahu’s North Shore. Four people in the craft escaped injury.

Other recent incidents include:

A chopper that crash landed on a Kaneohe Bay sandbar in October 2018, injuring the pilot and two passengers.

The January 2016 crash of a tour helicopter on Kauai’s Na Pali Coast. In that incident, five passengers suffered injuries.

A February 2016 crash of a helicopter into Pearl Harbor that killed a teenage passenger visiting with his family from Canada.

Story and video ➤

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.

“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.”

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.

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.

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.

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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  2. Having flown and hiked along that coastline, I can only imagine trying to set a helicopter down, not to mention an airplane. I don't recall seeing a single flat piece of land without vegetation. Barely any beaches between Polihale and Ke'e. Ditching would be a scary option since this is the "exposed" side of Kauai with huge swell and rocky shores. During winter the waves are 30ft on a normal day. This is one of the most beautiful and stunning spots on earth, but one of the worst to have a problem in when in the air.

  3. I'm sorry but these helo tours need to just stop.

  4. If Heli tours need to stop then so need manned car driving as it causes tens of thousands of deaths every year.
    Less people die in Part 135 heli operations worldwide than are killed by sharks for that matter.
    Not a big fan of helis but people go on those tours and pilots fly those helicopters understanding nothing is 100% foolproof and even when all things are done right something can go wrong.
    Drones are especially dangerous to helicopters for example. Impossible to see, packing metallic pieces that can cause catastrophic damage and flying at the same height.
    I doubt this is the cause but just an example of something absolutely outside the control of the operator that can cause lethal damage.

  5. I agree, lets ban shark tours, heck, why not ban swimming in the ocean while we're at it. In fact, why don't we just ban anything that's even remotely hazardous so we can all just sit in our houses and do nothing??? I'm getting pretty sick of people (including our so called elected officials) saying helicopters and "small planes" are "unsafe" and we need more regulation or just to ban it altogether before we even know what happened. Not saying there isn't any room for improvement, maybe there is, maybe isn't, aviation is very good at learning from the past but can we at least wait for the investigation to finish before we condemn an entire industry? Few things on earth are more regulated (and safe) than aviation. How about more regulation on cars and mandatory training for drivers? No matter how much training or regulation we impose we will never be able to stop every accident but it's very easy to make it so expensive and difficult to do something that no one will be able to do it. There is no guarantee of safety in anything we do in life, only varying risk. We all decide what risks we are willing to take, we try to mitigate those risks as best we can or we choose to avoid them all together. 

  6. One of safe option, Enjoy this unique VR Timelapse experience of some of Kauai Island’s most stunning landmarks in ultra-high resolution - 8K 3D stereoscopic 360 °. Best viewed in VR headset on YouTube VR. We will start at Wailua Falls followed by hike up Napali Coast Valley to the highest point of Kalalau Lookout. Then we will end our adventure by relaxing on Poipu beach with a beautiful sunset - all in immersive 360 timelapse within a minute. Put on your Oculus Go or Oculus Quest, sit back, relax and enjoy this unique VR journey with me. Aloha!
    Another is FLYING OVER KAUAI (4K) Hawaii's Garden Island | Ambient Aerial Film + Music for Stress Relief 1.5HR

  7. May never know exactly what happened but I would guess some type of medical event with the pilot.