Cliffs, jungle a big hurdle for feds in Hawaii copter crash

  • This Dec. 17 aerial photo shows the Na Pali Coast on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. (AP Photo/Maryclaire Dale)

HONOLULU — The remote and rugged terrain on the Hawaiian island of Kauai where a sightseeing helicopter crashed, killing all seven people aboard, could make it difficult or even impossible to piece together what led to the wreck.

Federal investigators who arrived Sunday are calling the inaccessible area of steep cliffs and thick jungle canopies one of the most challenging crash sites they have seen.

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Getting a team to the actual site was proving to be one of the initial challenges, National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Eric Weiss said Monday.

“The logistics of this particular site are very challenging, even by NTSB standards,” Weiss said. “I can’t exaggerate the difficulty of the terrain.”

Before the helicopter crashed on a mountaintop Thursday, it 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.”

The copter apparently struck a cliff face before falling 50 to 100 yards about a 1 mile inland, Kauai fire Battalion Chief Solomon Konoho told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

The team of investigators from Alaska and Washington state planned to fly over the crash site in a helicopter Monday.

Sometimes it’s been impossible for investigators to reach wrecks.

The NTSB couldn’t determine why an Alaska sightseeing airplane crashed into a mountain in Denali National Park in 2018, killing a pilot and four passengers from Poland, because it couldn’t reach the wreckage. The plane crashed on a near-vertical mountainside covered by snow and ice and later got buried when a glacier split apart.

In Hawaii, federal investigators have started their work remotely even if they can’t get to the Kauai site, Weiss said, including studying the fast-changing weather.

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National Weather Service meteorologist Gavin Shigesato said the agency was not releasing information on Thursday’s weather conditions on Kauai.

“We’re going to hold off an any comments at this time just for the NTSB to do their investigation,” he said. “In that mountainous terrain, there are not a lot of observations that can be taken, but we’ll leave that up to the incident report of the NTSB.”

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