Local helicopter pilots say they train for emergency situations they never intend to happen, but if they do – they can only hope the outcome will be as text book as Wednesday afternoon's emergency copter landing in downtown Honolulu.
National Transportation Safety Board investigators still have to determine what caused the helicopter's engine failure. The Robinson R-22 copter is owned by Mauna Loa Helicopters. Experts say the one thing they know for sure is the copter 30-year-old Julia Link was piloting lost power and she was forced into autorotation.
"Basically it's starting to descend and air is rushing up through the main rotor system," explained Richard Schuman, President of Makani Kai Helicopters. "As long as that's happening, everything is good. The pilot has complete control over the helicopter, and the pilot decides pretty much where they want to land."
The emergency maneuver is featured in a section on Mauna Loa Helicopter's flight training website. It states: "being able to successfully autorotate your aircraft to a suitable landing spot after an engine failure can mean the difference between walking away and eating hospital food."
"What happened yesterday was nothing short of miraculous! Absolutely text book classic – the way it needs to be done," described Schuman.
Schuman says pilots train for emergency scenarios like these all the time, because if the unthinkable happens their reaction needs to be immediate – like muscle memory.
"When you hear it go quiet, when you hear the alarm go off, then your arms and your feet and your hands instinctively do what you need to do," said Schuman.
Schuman describes Wednesday's accident as highly unusual.
"The likelihood of you being in a helicopter situation like yesterday is so remote—you would win the New York lottery first," said Schuman.
He says it makes a pilot like Link, who kept herself and her passenger alive, extremely valuable.
"Everybody walked away without an injury, even on the ground! There was no better outcome, nothing better that she could have done. She did absolutely terrific," praised Schuman. "What she did was awesome. She did exactly what she was trained to do."