- Associated Press - Monday, December 30, 2019

HONOLULU — Tour helicopter operations in Hawaii have come under increased scrutiny after the deadly crash this week, one of several recent accidents in the state, with a congressman calling the trips unsafe and lacking proper oversight.

There were no survivors of a Thursday tour helicopter crash that killed three minors and four adults, officials confirmed Saturday.

The helicopter that was set to tour the rugged Na Pali Coast, the picturesque and remote northern shoreline of Kauai that was featured in the film “Jurassic Park,” crashed on a mountaintop Thursday.

The remains of six people were recovered Friday and the seventh is still missing. Kauai police confirmed there were no survivors based in part on the nature of the crash and impact damage, officials said in a statement. Recovery efforts were suspended Saturday afternoon.

There were six people from two different families and a pilot on the flight.



Rep. Ed Case, Hawaii Democrat, cited fatal accidents over the years, blaming the Federal Aviation Administration for not taking National Transportation Safety Board safety improvement efforts seriously and the industry for not regulating itself.

“Tour helicopter and small aircraft operations are not safe, and innocent lives are paying the price,” Mr. Case said. “In our Hawaii alone, the industry, while stridently arguing that it is safe and sensitive to neighborhoods, has in fact ignored any sensible safety improvements, instead dramatically increasing in recent years its volume of flights, at all times of day and night, in seemingly all weather over more residential neighborhoods and to more risky and remote locations, at lower altitudes, while completely failing to address ground safety and community disruption concerns.”

The FAA, however, said it conducts regular surveillance on all Hawaii air tour operators and ensures companies address any issues, agency spokesman Ian Gregor said in an email. He said the FAA does not have concerns about the industry statewide.

Police on Kauai have preliminary identifications for three of the seven people aboard Thursday’s helicopter tour that crashed in a remote part of Hawaii.

In a statement Saturday, police said the flight manifest listed the pilot as Paul Matero, 69, of Wailua, Hawaii. Two passengers were named as Amy Gannon, 47, and Jocelyn Gannon, 13, of Wisconsin. Amy Gannon co-founded a nonprofit company that helped female entrepreneurs succeed.

The four other passengers, including two girls who were 10 and 13 years old, are believed to be from Switzerland, police said, but their identities have not yet been released.

Autopsies are still pending.

The helicopter company, identified as Safari Helicopters, contacted the Coast Guard on Thursday evening after the tour did not return to the airport as scheduled. A search began but steep terrain, low visibility, choppy seas and rain complicated the search.

A person who answered the phone at a number listed for Safari Helicopters declined to comment, but the owner released a statement Saturday saying, “The Safari Helcopter family, along with the broader community, mourn the loss of seven lives that were on Thursday’s sightseeing flight.”

Owner Preston Myers added that the pilot, Mr. Matero, had 12 years of experience on Kauai and called him a “seasoned member of our team.”

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.

The FAA’s Mr. Gregor said the agency is looking at the company’s safety record but likely won’t have a full report until Monday. The NTSB announced Friday that it was sending three investigators to Kauai.

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