We're saddened by the tragic crash this week of a tour helicopter on Molokai. Five were killed when their Blue Hawaiian Helicopter crashed in stormy weather. While the total number of Hawaii helicopter crashes has decreased in recent years, those that occurred have been increasingly more fatal.
Helicopter and ultra-lights in Hawaii are subjected to some of the most quick-changing weather conditions found anywhere. Visibility here can drop to near zero in moments especially when the weather is unstable.
60 Crashes In The Last 30 Years
Blue Hawaiian, which flies on all the islands, hadn't had a crash since 2000 when one of their craft crashed on Maui. In that incident which also involved a mountainside collision, seven people were killed. The NTSB found that it was caused by pilot error in failing to maintain adequate altitude.
In 2007, there was a crash of a Heli-USA craft at Kauai's Princeville Airport and prior to that there was a 2005 crash that killed 3 and a 2004 crash that killed five on Kauai.
In total this lastest incident makes 60 total crashes and 17 fatal ones in the past 30 years. Of the 59 prior incidents, aircraft malfunctions were the most common cause, typically loss of power caused by improper maintenance. In total Fifty passengers and 10 operators have died.
Regulations were put in place in more than a decade ago that defined minimum altitudes and clearances and implemented other rules and safety equipment. Since then, however, the number of crashes that have resulted from low visibility in rain and clouds increased from 5 percent to 32 percent of all helicopter tour crashes.
There remains controversy regarding an FAA proposal establishing a minimum altitude of 1500 feet in order to avoid obscured mountain peaks that are frequently found in Hawaii. Hawaii operators believe that the increased altitude could result in additional crashes from reduced visibility in clouds often present at higher altitudes.
We've also written about Hawaii Ultralight safety and crashes a number of times before.
Does the recent crash impact your decision to take a Hawaii helicopter tour?
I realize that helicopter tours are an activity that many visitors to Hawaii enjoy. I can relate completely. Not long ago I had the opportunity to fly in a small float plane over a glacial lake. I researched it and found that a plane of the same type had not long before crashed at the very same location. I took my chances, and, although somewhat nervous, had an incredible flight that I'll never forget.