NTSB preliminary report finds Kauai tour helicopter crashed in heavy rain, fog

Coast Guard Cutter William Hart moves toward the Na Pali Coast on the Hawaiian island of Kauai on Friday, Dec. 27, 2019, the day after a tour helicopter disappeared with seven people aboard.


By THE HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER Published: January 16, 2020

(Tribune News Service) — A witness hiking along a nearby trail reported heavy rain and fog at the time that a tour helicopter in December, killing all seven people aboard, according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board.

The male hiker at Kokee State Park reported only 20 feet of visibility at the time, according to the NTSB, which released the report.

He knew something was wrong when he heard a high-pitched whine and tried to locate the helicopter but was unable to due to adverse weather conditions and fading daylight.

The NTSB reported that the Airbus AS350 B2 helicopter operated by Safari Helicopters was destroyed by impact forces and a post-crash fire after colliding with the cliff face.

The helicopter had departed Lihue Airport at 4:31 p.m. on Dec. 26 under visual flight rules, meaning conditions were clear enough to fly without instruments.

It was the pilot’s eighth and last scheduled, 50-minute aerial tour flight of the day on Dec. 26, 2019.

The pilot, identified as Paul Matero, 69, of Wailua had radioed Safari Helicopters’ headquarters of his departure time at about 4:30 p.m.

He was believed to have been following a regular tour route, and shortly thereafter reported his location as “Tree Tunnel,” and then about 15 minutes later as “Upper Mic,” which means he was exiting Waimea Canyon and heading over to the Na Pali coastline via Kokee State Park.

The helicopter did not have flight tracking equipment onboard, so its exact flight path remains unknown.

That was the last time the veteran pilot was heard from, and before an extensive search commenced at 5:31 p.m. when the helicopter’s return was 10 minutes overdue.

The following day, at about 9:30 a.m., Kauai County officials announced that they had found the helicopter wreckage within Kokee State Park, about 1.3 miles inland of where it had struck a cliff face.

The report said the helicopter had hit a north facing slope at an elevation of about 3,000 feet before coming to a rest 100 feet below. Investigators found all of the helicopter’s major components within the debris field, but the wreckage was largely consumed by a post-crash fire.

Investigators had earlier noted upon arrival that the helicopter crash site, situated among steep cliffs and thick jungle, .

The weather at the closest official weather observation station — Barking Sands Pacific Missile Range Facility — which is about nine miles from the crash site, reported winds at 12 to 25 knots, 10 miles of visibility and few clouds at an elevation of 1,200 feet.

The who died due to fatal injuries from the crash have been positively identified as visitors from two families — Sylvie Winteregg, 50, Christophe Winteregg, 49, Alice Winteregg, 13, and Agathe Winteregg, 10, of Switzerland; and Amy Gannon, 47, and Jocelyn Gannon, 13, of Madison, Wisc.

The Kauai Police Department also said today that the positive identification of the victims was expedited with the help of advanced DNA technology. The names and ages of all the victims had been previously reported.

“The findings we made would have typically taken weeks but we were able to complete them in-house within a short period of time so that we could bring some sense of closure to the families and friends of the victims,” said Kauai Police Chief Todd G. Raybuck in a news release. “I really want to thank everyone at KPD, and all of our partner agencies, for their hard work throughout this entire investigation. I also want to express my deepest condolences again to those who lost their loved ones in this terrible tragedy.”

The NTSB investigator in charge was David Banning, with participation from Patrick Lusch of the Federal Aviation Administration.

A final report, including a probably cause, typically takes 12 to 24 months, according to the NTSB.

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