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Hawaii Guard pilot dies in private helicopter crash in Indiana

By DAN NAKASO | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: March 16, 2017

A long-time Hawaii Army National Guard helicopter pilot from Kapolei died in a helicopter crash in rural northern Indiana Tuesday while helping to install power lines for a private company.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Howard Esterbrook, 53, was supposed to return to Oahu today after spending weeks flying for a mainland company that was working in Brookston, in Indiana’s White County.

“He was coming home today,” said Esterbrook’s wife, Laura “Ohelo” Esterbrook. “I was going to pick him up at the airport.”

The White County Sheriff’s Department and Indiana State Police received a call of a helicopter crash with injuries at 3:50 p.m. local time, according to Sgt. Kim Riley of the Indiana State Police.

Esterbrook’s helicopter was helping to install power lines on new steel light poles when it crashed for unknown reasons, Riley said. A ground crew removed Esterbrook from the wreckage and began performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

But Esterbrook was pronounced dead at the scene by the White County Coroner’s Office.

The National Transportation Board and the Federal Aviation Administration have been notified, Riley said.

Esterbrook’s sister-in-law, former Miss Hawaii Luana Alapa, said her cousin lives in Indiana and reported that winds were blowing so hard the day of Esterbrook’s crash that cars were getting pushed off of the freeway.

“The winds in Indiana that day were unusually high,” Alapa said. “You would think he would get shot down in Afghanistan. But, no, it was the wind.”

Brad Hayes, executive director of Naval Air Museum Barbers Point, regularly flew with Esterbrook when they worked for Maui-based Pacific Helicopters that operated across the islands.

Whatever happened to Esterbrook in Indiana must have been unexpected, Hayes said.

Esterbrook had logged more than 20,000 hours flying helicopters and “had all the flying survival skills, all the tricks up his sleeve and a thinking man’s approach to all these jobs,” Hayes said. “Based on this guy’s skill level, it was something that wasn’t controllable or even foreseeable. It snuck up on him and he didn’t even see it. Whatever went wrong, went wrong quick.”

Esterbrook had served for 17 years in the Hawaii Army National Guard, left to fly civilian helicopters for utility and environmental jobs, then lost 150 pounds before re-enlisting in the Guard three years ago, his wife said. He was planning to be redeployed to the Middle East later this year, she said.

Esterbrook is survived by his wife, who runs a company called Ohelo’s Mango Chutneys; daughter Taylor Esterbrook of Waianae; and brother Michael Uchida of Kahala.

Esterbrook had requested that his ashes be scattered in the waters off of Diamond Head, Alapa said.

Services are pending.

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