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NTSB Issues Preliminary Report on Big Island Tour Helicopter Crash

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The main wreckage of a tour helicopter that crashed earlier this month in lava-covered terrain near South Point on the Big Island. (Images are screenshots from the preliminary crash report by the National Transportation Safety Board)

The National Transportation Safety Board has issued its preliminary report concerning the crash of a tour helicopter earlier this month near South Point on the Big Island.

Six people were aboard the Paradise Helicopters Bell 407 helicopter, operated by K&S Helicopters, when it crashed just before 5:30 p.m. June 8 in an open lava field between Ranchos Subdivision and South Point Road.

“The pilot and two passengers sustained serious injuries and three passengers sustained minor injuries,” the NTSB’s initial report states.

NTSB Preliminary Report South Point Helicopter Crash by Tiffany De Masters on Scribd


Investigators from the NTSB Alaska Regional Office, along with an airworthiness investigator, a survival factors investigator and a maintenance investigator from the NTSB in Washington, D.C., came to the Big Island to examine the crash site.

According to the report, the helicopter departed the Paradise Helicopters base at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at 5:01 p.m. that day, heading south for an air tour around the island. The pilot reported the first part of the flight was normal, but about 30 minutes in, the helicopter experienced a “violent upset, followed by an uncontrollable spin (yaw) to the right.”

A passenger reported that as the helicopter continued to spin, she observed something fall off the aircraft but could not identify a specific part. Data showed a rapid descent and decrease in airspeed at the end of the flight’s track, consistent with occupants’ statements.

“The helicopter continued to spin uncontrollably while it descended, and it subsequently struck an area of rough, uneven, lava-covered terrain and came to rest on its left side,” the NTSB preliminary report says. “After the impact, an emergency call was placed by a passenger to report that the helicopter had crashed.”

An image of the tour helicopter’s tail boom section at the crash site. The tail boom came to rest nearly 800 feet away from the main wreckage.

Investigators’ examination of the crash site revealed that the helicopter’s tail boom came to rest nearly 800 feet away from the main wreckage. The tail boom separated from the aircraft’s fuselage at the tail boom’s attach point.

According to the preliminary report, the upper-left attachment fitting fastener was not present, and the lower-left attachment fitting was fractured and showed signs of fatigue. Fasteners for the lower-left, lower-right and upper-right attachment fittings were present.

A review of the tour helicopter’s maintenance records found that the most recent tail boom attachment fasteners torque check was done May 4. At the time of the accident, the helicopter had accumulated about 114 flight hours since that May torque check and no additional maintenance had been conducted the the attachment location, the report says.

The tail boom was installed Aug. 23, 2009, on the helicopter and had not been removed prior to the accident.


“Portions of the tail boom structure, aft fuselage structure, attachment fittings and fasteners were retained for further examination by the NTSB’s Materials Laboratory,” the report says.

The report is only preliminary. A final report from the NTSB will be issued later.

A statement from K&S Helicopters, provided by Paradise Helicopters Chairman Calvin Dorn via email, said the company is cooperating with the tour helicopter’s pilot, NTSB, Federal Aviation Administration and Bell on the crash investigation.

The company also voluntarily grounded all of its Bell 407 aircraft for the time being.

“K&S Helicopters is working closely with the pilot, NTSB, FAA and Bell to support a thorough investigation of the June 8 accident on the Island of Hawai’i,” K&S said in the statement. “All Bell 407 aircraft operated by K&S Helicopters have been voluntarily grounded out of an abundance of caution until further safety determinations can be made. The company is in the process of reviewing the preliminary NTSB findings, and we will continue to work with investigators as they complete a final report.”

Jennifer Gabris with NTSB media relations told Big Island Now via email Friday, June 24, that final reports take between 12 and 24 months to complete.

Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel has more than 20 years of experience in journalism, starting out as a reporter and working his way up to become a copy editor and page designer, most recently at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo.
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