Tour helicopter makes ‘precautionary landing’ near Leilani Estates

  • BRISKI

A Blue Hawaiian Helicopters tour aircraft with six aboard made an emergency landing in a lava field in the Leilani Estates area shortly before noon Thursday.

There were no serious injuries among those aboard the flight, which originated at Hilo International Airport.

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Initial reports put the landing site near the Pahoa Transfer Station, but that was later updated to about five miles southwest of Pahoa. A statement from Mayor Harry Kim’s office said the site in a grassy clearing within a forested area near an old geothermal site off Highway 130 and Ala ‘Ili Road.

“A Eurocopter EC130 was conducting an air tour when the aircraft experienced engine problems,” Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said in an email.

The pilot made a precautionary landing, and the aircraft rolled over, he said.

A county helicopter was among the eight Hawaii Fire Department Units responding to the 11:35 a.m. call. The county chopper flew the pilot and five passengers to the Pahoa Fire Station where they were examined by medics. Five of the six were transported to Hilo Medical Center as a precautionary measure, the mayor’s office said. All were reported to be ambulatory and in good condition.

“They seemed to be all right,” said Hawaii Fire Department Capt. Chris Mantz.

A fire department statement said 13 personnel were involved in the response.

“All we know is we got a call of a helicopter down — and I use the word ‘down’ because we don’t know if it was a crash or a hard landing,” added Hawaii Police Department Capt. John Briski, the Puna Patrol Division commander. “Everyone is accounted for, and they were all transported back here.”

Briski said it took his officers “a while” to access the crash scene because of the remote nature of the incident’s site.

Quentin Koch, president of Blue Hawaiian Helicopters, issued a statement Thursday afternoon.

“On March 5, a Blue Hawaiian aircraft was in flight near the Leilani Estates area when the pilot conducted a precautionary landing,” Koch said. “The helicopter had launched from the Hilo base on the ‘Circle of Fire’ tour. The five passengers on board and the pilot are safe.

“The safety of our passengers and pilot are our always top priority, and the pilot’s decision to safely land the aircraft is always the right decision.”

Koch said local emergency services were called, and the company notified the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board.

A Blue Hawaiian Helicopters aircraft made an unplanned landing on Aug. 19, 2018, at Shipman Beach in Keaau. No injuries were reported.

The most recent fatal tour helicopter crash was that of a Safari Helicopters on Dec. 26 in Kokee State Park on Kauai. The pilot and all six passengers were killed. A preliminary investigation didn’t state a cause but cited a witness reporting “adverse weather conditions” at the time.

Blue Hawaiian Helicopters and its registrant company, Helicopter Consultants of Maui LLC, have been involved in two fatal crashes — neither of which occurred on the Big Island — since 2000.

On Nov. 10, 2011, a Blue Hawaiian Helicopters Airbus EC130 crashed on Molokai, killing five people. The investigation concluded the crash was due to pilot error while operating in “marginal weather conditions.”

And on July 21, 2000, an Airbus 355 helicopter operated by Helicopter Consultants of Maui crashed near Kahului after striking a mountain at about 2,900 feet. Seven people were killed.

The NTSB cited weather-related factors and a failure by the pilot to maintain adequate ground clearance in low-ceiling conditions.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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