Helicopter crash investigation continues


Paradise Helicopters was back in business Friday after one of its helicopters crashed Thursday near Hilo International Airport.

“We’re still in business, still running tours,” said Rob Payesko, the company’s director of business development. “We had shut down post-incident to review our safety procedures, then we were back up and running this (Friday) morning.”

The pilot flying the helicopter at the time of the crash, however, is not currently flying. Payesko couldn’t say how long the pilot would be grounded, but added that employees at the company were “thankful that no one was injured and the pilot was able to land the helicopter without injury.”

A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday that the pilot reported he was making an emergency approach around 1:15 p.m. because of engine failure. The helicopter auto-rotated, meaning that its rotor blades spun unpowered, into a field roughly 700 feet away from Runway 03/21 at Hilo International Airport, where it rolled onto its side, its blades twisting and bending.

Some media sources reported Friday that a Texas family that had been aboard the helicopter when it crashed said the helicopter ran out of fuel, but Payesko said he couldn’t confirm that.

“Obviously, we had an emergency landing yesterday, and the cause is still under investigation. It’s unknown. … We don’t have any comments on the cause of this incident at this time,” he said. “The FAA and NTSB are investigating, and we’re doing an internal audit to check on our own procedures and double-checking what we’re doing.”

When asked about the company’s refueling policy, he said that “absolutely, fuel is something that pilots check every time before they take off.”

Payesko said he would not be releasing the names of the pilot or the passengers, “until the families and everyone involved has been notified.” No one was seriously injured in the crash, according to the state Department of Transportation.

Paradise Helicopters, which is owned by Kailua-Kona-based K&S Helicopters, has operated out of Hilo for the past 14 years, he said. Currently, the company flies eight helicopters based in three locations across the state, including Kona and Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu.

At any given time, between two and five helicopters may operate out of Hilo, based on demand.

FAA Pacific Division Public Affairs Manager Ian Gregor said Friday he could not identify any of the passengers in the helicopter, adding that the National Transportation Safety Board had taken the lead in the investigation, and that organization would likely not be able to comment so early in its investigation.

Attempts to contact the NTSB for comment were unsuccessful.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.