Saturday, November 12, 2011

Four Tourists, Pilot Killed in Chopper Tour on Molokai Island

Two tourists from Toronto, two newlyweds from Pennsylvania and the pilot are among the dead when the tourist chopper crashed into a mountain ridge on Hawaii's Molokai Island on Thursday (November 10). U.S. federal officials are investigating. The operator of the helicopter, Blue Hawaiian Helicopters, said the 45-minute tour had initially departed from Kahului, on Maui.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser has identified the pilot as Nathan Cline, 30, of Kihei, Maui. Blue Hawaiian Helicopters listed Cline as having logged more than 4,000 flight hours. The crashed helicopter was a Euro-copter model EC-130 B4 that was less than a year old.

COMMENT: Details of the crash are very sketchy at this time, but updates will be provided to our readers as new information becomes available. One possible explanation for the crash is that heavy cloud cover lowered the ceiling and Molokai was experiencing heavy rain at the time of the crash. Of course, a nagging question is why was the pilot flying in bad weather with low visibility?

The use of helicopter for flyovers for tourists is becoming very controversial as chopper crashes for such purposes mount. Most recently, three tourist were killed in New York City on the East River when a helicopter that had just had a major overhaul crashed on takeoff.

Helicopter tour companies advertise trips to Molokai to see the island's sea cliffs and Hawaii's tallest waterfall. The remote Kalaupapa peninsula on Molokai is where Hawaii exiled leprosy patients between 1866 and 1969.

Although Blue Hawaiian conducts 160,000 tours each year on all of the Hawaiian islands, a Blue Hawaiian helicopter was previously involved in a July 2000 crash that killed seven people on Maui. Pilot Larry Kirsch, 55, and six passengers died when the twin-engine AS-355 crashed into a steep mountainside deep in Maui's Iao Valley. A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report on that crash said the pilot was responsible. He failed to maintain enough altitude over the terrain amid low-lying clouds, and the helicopter slammed into the side of a ridge in the valley.

There have been other tour helicopter crashes in the islands over the years. In March 2007, four people died when a Heli-USA Airways helicopter crashed at Princeville Airport on Kauai. And three passengers drowned in 2005 after a helicopter crashed into the ocean off the coast of Kauai. The previous year, five people were killed when a helicopter crashed into a mountain on Kauai.

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