KANEOHE (HawaiiNewsNow) - The two passengers injured in a helicopter crash near the Kaneohe Bay sandbar earlier this week were celebrating their recent engagement in the islands, and tried to take action as the chopper went down.
The FAA and NTSB are continuing an investigation into what caused the two helicopter to come down.
The two passengers, 35-year-old Carli McCounaghy and 31-year-old Adam Barnett, are from Illinois and had just gotten engaged Saturday, according to the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii, which has been assisting the couple.
They booked the sightseeing tour for the last day of their vacation.
The Robinson R44 helicopter crashed just off the Kaneohe sandbar on Monday night, seriously injuring the couple and the pilot. Novictor Helicopters, which owns the choppers, says the 57-year-old pilot suffered a medical emergency.
Barnett was treated for his injuries at the Queen’s Medical Center emergency room.
McConaughy was admitted for one night.
“They did indicate that the pilot had some medical issues and they had to intervene,” said Jessica Lani Rich, of the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii. “They thought that they were going to die as the helicopter was going down.”
The pilot passed out and the helicopter went into a deep dive, according to Illinois radio station WJOL.
The station reported that McConaughy was in the front seat while her fiancee in the back told her to “pull up” and she managed to level out the helicopter before it crashed on the sandbar.
McCounaghy and Barnett had lacerations and other injuries.
The three patients were all taken to a hospital in serious condition, but were later upgraded to stable condition.
The couple left Honolulu on Tuesday night and landed in Chicago on Wednesday morning, according to VASH.
“They felt fortunate. They said things could have been worse, but the fact that they were able to get on an airplane and go back to Chicago" Rich said. “Their wounds will heal, however in their minds, what had happened, it’s going to take a long time to forget that.”
McConaughy and Barnett both live just outside of Chicago.
On Tuesday morning, crews salvaged the helicopter from the bay, flying it out on a hoist to Heeia Kea Small Boat Harbor, where it will be transported to a secure facility to be inspected.
Kenneth Tom, owner of Advanced Towing and Recovery, said there was no oil sheen in the water near the chopper so any environmental damage appears to be minimal.
He also said the helicopter was largely in one piece.
“It’s a little tricky from the location where it’s at. We had to bring in some specialized equipment to do it,” said Tom. “Our utmost consideration is for the environment.”
Witnesses said the crash happened in the blink of an eye.
“We were pretty far away but we could tell there were people standing in the water, you know, the tide was low enough,” said resident Preston Swann.
“The emergency crews were there. Looked like the Fire Department helicopter was there. They were pulling people out, dropping them off by the Jet Skis.”
Firefighters said a fishing boat and two kayakers got to the chopper victims first.
“It was fortunate for us that the good Samaritans were out there that quick and were able to secure the three occupants and pass on information to our fire department,” said Mark Nakagawa, of HFD.
Witness David Michelmore said the pilot appeared to have suffered the worst injuries.
“He was very white and pale when they loaded him,” he said. “I hope that he is OK.”
Officials identified the chopper that crashed as a Robinson R44.
This story will be updated.