Helicopter crash pilot lost license for 2010 drug use

LIHUE, Kauai — A pilot who was flying a sightseeing helicopter that crashed in Hawaii in December had his license revoked for marijuana use in 2010.

The Federal Aviation Administration revoked the medical, commercial pilot and flight instructor certificates of Safari Helicopters pilot Paul Matero in June 2010, The Garden Island reported Wednesday.

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After the positive drug test, Matero was issued temporary “special-issuance” certifications following a one-year waiting period, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said.

“A special-issuance medical certificate enables (the FAA) to limit the validity of the certificate to a shorter-than-normal time period, and to require the pilot to provide information showing that they are continuing to successfully address a medical condition,” Gregor said in an email to The Associated Press Thursday. “Pilots who continue to demonstrate sobriety for an extended period can get regular medical certification.”

The FAA issued Matero a standard license in 2012 after further testing.

“When a pilot’s certificate is revoked, they have to wait at least a year to apply for a new certificate. They don’t get the old one back,” Gregor siad. “Applying for a new certificate requires them to go through the same tests that a first-time applicant would go through.”

The pilot was rehired and returned to flight duty after completing a substance abuse treatment program and receiving his renewed licenses, Matt Barkett, a Safari spokesperson, told The Garden Island newspaper.

Matero had flown about 5,000 hours since that time in compliance with federal regulations, Barkett told the newspaper.

Barkett emailed a statement on behalf of the company to The Associated Press on Thursday saying the one-time positive drug test for marijuana was the only drug-related violation the company has ever had.

Matero was “rehired by Safari only after he satisfied all FAA requirements for reinstatement,” the statement said. “From the time of his reinstatement to the day of the accident, he was subject to ongoing drug screening by the FAA and was certified for flight annually. No other pilot in company history has failed a drug test.”

Tour helicopter companies must have FAA-approved drug-and-alcohol testing programs, Gregor told the AP.

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Matero and six passengers died when the helicopter crashed on a remote mountain ridge on the island of Kauai the day after Christmas.

A hiker who was about 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) away from the crash site told investigators that visibility was only about 20 feet (6 meters) at the time because of fog and rain, according to a preliminary report released by the National Transportation Safety Board.

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