Remains of 6 Recovered from Kauai Helicopter Crash

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Coast Guard search and rescue team looking for a tour helicopter.
This photo provided by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources shows a Coast Guard search and rescue team looking over Napali Coast State Wilderness Park for a tour helicopter that disappeared in Hawaii, Friday, Dec. 27, 2019. (Dan Dennison/AP)

The remains of six people have been recovered while one person is still missing following a tour helicopter crash Thursday afternoon in a remote area of Kokee on Kauai.

A search for the seventh person was expected to resume at first light this morning, weather permitting.

Remains of six occupants of the Eurocopter AS350 B2 helicopter were recovered Friday afternoon from the crash site in a remote area of Kokee near Milolii Ridge Road and the Nualolo Trail.

"There are no indications of survivors, " Kauai Fire Battalion Chief Solomon Kanoho said at a 4 p.m. news conference. The search was suspended at 3 :30 p.m. Friday due to fog and poor visibility.

Three National Transportation Security Board investigators are expected to arrive today to investigate the crash and will have an update today.

According to the flight manifest, the pilot along with two families--a party of two and a party of four, among them two children--were aboard the Safari Helicopters aircraft, authorities said.

The Safari Helicopters chopper was on a sightseeing tour that included the towering cliffs of the Na Pali Coast, but was found at 9 :30 a.m. Friday in Kokee inland from the cliffs. Kokee State Park is at an elevation of between 3, 200 feet to 4, 200 feet.

Kanoho declined to share conditions of the wreckage, saying, "Out of respect to the families we still have to notify, I don't want to get into too many of the details of the wreckage. All I can tell you is that it was located in a steep (inland ) area of Kokee."

Kauai Police Chief Todd Raybuck said the remains were taken to Wilcox Hospital, where an Oahu pathologist will assist police in identifying the remains.

Kauai officials were working to notify the next of kin of passengers on the flight manifest.

The Federal Aviation Administration said in a written statement that the wreckage was discovered about 13 miles north of Hanapepe and that the NTSB will determine the probable cause of the crash.

Kanoho indicated weather may have been a factor, saying anyone familiar with the area knows that it can be clear in the morning, but the fog can roll in in the afternoon. He said he could not confirm Thursday's weather.

National Weather Service lead forecaster Ian Morrison said Kokee is in the mountains, so with it comes mountain effects of wind, rain and clouds. Additionally, at the approximate time of the crash, low clouds were moving in from the north, affecting the whole north side of the island.

A weather sensor at Barking Sands, at the westernmost tip of the island, indicated heavy rain at 4 :26 p.m.

But the helicopter had good weather at takeoff from Lihue. At 4 p.m. it was mostly clear with light east-northeasterlies blowing 7 to 12 mph.

The last known communication was at 4 :40 p.m. when the pilot relayed the tour was leaving the Waimea Canyon area.

The owner of the helicopter contacted the Coast Guard at 6 :06 p.m., saying the aircraft was due back in Lihue at 5 :21 p.m. The aircraft was equipped with an electronic locator, but no signals were received.

The Coast Guard said Thursday night it began searching for the overdue helicopter along the Na Pali Coast when weather conditions were challenging, and that the weather on scene was 4 miles visibility due to clouds and rain with 28 mph winds. It continuing searching overnight.

Its Dolphin helicopter crew conducted three search patterns throughout the night along the northwest portion of Kauai while the HSM-37 Seahawk crew scanned the northwest shoreline area for several hours.

The Coast Guard deployed its HC-130 airplane, MH-65 helicopter, 45-foot Response Boat Medium and the Cutter William Hart on Friday to resume the search.

The Navy Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 37 MH-60R Seahawk helicopter crew and Civil Air Patrol also assisted in air and ground searches along with the Kauai Fire Department, Kauai Police Department, state Department of Land and Natural Resources, Hawaii Air National Guard and private helicopter companies.

Curt Lofstedt, president of Island Helicopters Kauai, also had three helicopters assisting in the search. Private helicopters searched as well, he said.

Several private helicopter companies offered assistance, but "safety is paramount " for the Coast Guard, Navy and others, so "we tried to hold off and ... have them coordinate with the joint operation center, " Kanoho said.

Helicopter tours were restricted from flying below 2, 000 feet to allow a safe working zone Friday, he said.

He said the tour helicopter was traveling along the usual route that Kauai tour helicopters normally fly.

Due to the time of the notification, the Fire Department notified the Coast Guard, which used its night-­vision capabilities, and requested additional assets.

A manager for Safari Helicopters Hawaii said he anticipates a news release will go out today, but declined to comment Friday on the crash. Safari Helicopters has been conducting sightseeing tours on Kauai since 1987. The company's website shows it has tours on Kauai and Hawaii island.

It advertises a 60-minute tour of the Na Pali Coast, Waimea Canyon and Mount Waialeale and a 90-minute refuge eco-tour that also includes "Preserve Landing."

"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 Kawakami. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of all victims during this extremely difficult time."

Thursday's crash was the fifth fatal tour helicopter crash in Hawaii in recent years, from April 29 and as far back as Sept. 23, 2005.

Circumstances range from this year's crash in a Kailua neighborhood, one in waters off Pearl Harbor, another on the Princeville Airport runway on Kauai and another off Kailiu Point in Haena, Kauai. The Haena crash in the ocean was due to an encounter with a severe weather system.

Life's Bridges Hawaii, a grief-counseling agency, and the Kauai Visitors Bureau are assisting victims' families, county officials said in a news release.

The DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife on Friday closed a portion of Public Hunting Unit H in the Puu a Pele Forest Reserve to allow for search and recovery efforts to be conducted.

DLNR enforcement officers will be stationed at entry points to inform hunters and others of the closure.

The area is bound by Makaha Ridge Road, Kokee Road, Nualolo Trail and the coastline. Milolii Road and Nualolo Trail within the area are also closed.

This article is written by Leila Fujimori and Rosemarie Bernardo from The Honolulu Star-Advertiser and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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