From hard landings to deadly crashes, helicopter accidents are common in
Hawaii, affecting the state's tourism industry and threatening injury
and death to those who visit the islands. Hawaii's mountainous terrain
and ocean views make it a destination for tourists taking a once-in-a-lifetime
trip to experience its natural beauty. Unfortunately, even the most experienced
helicopter pilots who carry tourists on those trips can make mistakes
Commercial air tour and sightseeing operations must abide by
national air tour safety standards administered by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). But some helicopter
tour operators try to cut corners on aircraft maintenance and personnel
training, and some fail to abide by safety regulation. Nationwide, more
than half of air tour helicopter accidents involved system or component
failures, according to an FAA report.
Common Causes of Helicopter Accidents
Among the frequently cited causes of helicopter accidents are:
- Mishandled controls
- Operational errors
- Wire Strike
- Drivetrain failure
- Engine power loss
- Maintenance Error
- Loss of control
- Hydraulic system failures
- Inexperienced pilots
Hawaii Helicopter Crash Caused by Pilot Error
A recent National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report found that
a 2011 Molokai helicopter crash that killed five people was caused by
the pilot flying too close to mountains in bad weather. The Blue Hawaiian
Helicopters Eurocopter EC-130 was on a sightseeing tour of West Maui and
Molokai when it crashed in the mountains and burned near Kilohana Elementary
School, according to the article.
The NTSB report noted that the pilot failed to maintain clearance from
mountainous terrain amid low clouds, rain showers and high wind and clipped
the ground and trees, causing the helicopter to crash. The crash killed
the pilot and four passengers, including a newlywed couple.
Blue Hawaiian Helicopters said it is studying the reports and working to
improve flight procedures. The Maui News reported that the family of one
passenger killed in the crash settled with Blue Hawaiian for an undisclosed
amount in March.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, there were five
non-fatal helicopter crashes in Hawaii in 2013.
In June 2014, five sight-seeing passengers and the pilot on an Airbus AS
350 BA helicopter operated by Sunshine Helicopters, Inc. of Puunene, Hawaii,
narrowly escaped injury when the helicopter's main rotor speed began
decreasing, sounding a warning alarm. It prompted the pilot to make an
emergency hard landing, according to NTSB records. The helicopter fuselage
was structurally damaged.
Frequency of Hawaii Helicopter Crashes Prompted FAA Rule
The frequency of crashes involving sight-seeing helicopters in Hawaii in
the 1990s prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to issue emergency
rules to reduce the number of injuries and deaths associated with Hawaiian
The FAA regulations emphasized minimum flight altitudes and clearances
from terrain, emphasized precautions to ensure passenger safety and required
flotation equipment or wearing life preservers on flights over the ocean.
A 2009 study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University's Center for
Injury Research and Policy noted that sightseeing crashes in Hawaii had
decreased in the years since the FAA emergency rule took effect in 1994.
But the researchers noted that the proportion of crashes resulting from
low visibility such as flying in rain, fog and cloud cover had increased
from 5 percent to 32 percent of all air tour helicopter crashes.
The most common malfunction associated with helicopter crashes was loss
of power, most often caused by improper maintenance of the helicopter.
Many of these crashes could be prevented through proper maintenance procedures,
improved mechanic training and closer FAA oversight.
NTSB Urges FAA to Adopt Safety Recommendations
The National Transportation Safety Board has investigated numerous helicopter
crashes related to adverse weather. Pilots in Hawaii can face challenging
weather scenarios and weather can vary greatly from location to location.
The NTSB said flying conditions could be particularly challenging on the
island of Kauai because of steep terrain, mountain winds and rapidly changing
In 2013, the NTSB urged the
FAA to install and maintain cameras to monitor weather at critical locations
throughout the islands to give helicopter pilots more access to weather
Helicopter tourism is popular in Hawaii, but every precaution should be
taken to ensure the safety of passengers.
If you or a family member are injured in a helicopter crash in the Hawaiian
Islands, contact an experienced
personal-injury attorney who can help you determine your legal options and guide you through the
court system. Make sure you are well represented in case of a disastrous
event that causes injury or even death.
Aviation, Space & Environmental Medicine
Review of Civil Aviation Accidents, 2007-2009
National Transportation Safety Board: Safety Recommendation letter
Hawaii Helicopter Crashes