Company operating skydiving plane that crashed says it’s cooperating with investigators

In wake of crash, investigators put FAA ‘on notice’ over safety concerns with skydiving operations

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The company operating the skydiving plane that crashed Friday at Dillingham Airfield said it’s cooperating in a multi-agency investigation to learn what led up to the accident that killed all 11 people on board.

Oahu Parachute Center on Tuesday morning spoke out publicly about the tragedy, issuing a statement on its Facebook page.

“Oahu Parachute Center extends our deepest condolences to the family and friends of those who perished in the catastrophic incident that occurred on June 21st," the statement said. “There are no words to describe the overwhelming heartbreak that we are all enduring. We are in full cooperation with HPD, the FAA, and the NTSB in hopes that we discover what led to this terrible event."

The statement comes a day after an extraordinary news conference in which NTSB investigators in Hawaii publicly criticized the FAA for failing to adopt tougher oversight of skydiving operations and said the agency is “on notice."

“There is an inherent risk to parachuting, but passengers should be able to count on an airworthy plane, an adequately-trained pilot,” said NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy. “The NTSB has called on the FAA to improve the safety of parachute jump operations. They have not.”

She added: “Are we trying to put the FAA on notice on this? Yes. Accidents continue to happen.”

[Read more: Family, friends mourn 11 killed in one of Hawaii’s worst civil aviation disasters]

Despite the remarks, investigators stressed it’s not yet clear what caused an Oahu Parachute Center skydiving plane to crash shortly after takeoff at Dillingham Airfield on Friday.

The NTSB is looking at a number of potential factors, including aircraft maintenance, pilot training, and environmental conditions.

The FAA regulates air travel in the United States, while the NTSB steps in when something goes wrong.

Homendy said Friday’s crash underscores the NTSB’s bigger concerns about how the FAA oversees skydiving operations, requiring them to meet the lowest level of regulations. More than a decade ago, in an exhaustive report, the NTSB recommended that the regulations be bumped up so skydiving operations ― which have paying passengers ― would be treated like air taxi or tour operators.

Since 2008, she said, there have been at least 80 accidents involving skydiving airplanes nationwide that resulted in at least 19 fatalities. That total doesn’t include those killed in Friday’s crash.

The FAA has previously said that skydiving operations are appropriately regulated.

In a statement Monday, the agency said it takes NTSB recommendations seriously and has implemented a number of changes to address the agency’s concerns over parachuting operations.

“The FAA required its safety inspectors to conduct increased surveillance of parachute operations, revised the safety guidance we issued to parachute operators, and increased our safety outreach to the parachuting community. Parachute operators must follow existing regulations concerning pilot training and 100-flight-hour aircraft inspections,” the FAA said, in the statement.

The U.S. Parachute Association did not have a comment on the NTSB’s concerns.

But U.S. Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawaii, agrees with the NTSB that the industry should be more tightly regulated.

“This is a culture that appears to be the current regulation that essentially leaves a Wild West regulatory scheme for small scale civil aviators is somehow OK,” Case said.

Before Friday, the most recent fatal skydiving plane crash in Hawaii was in 2016, when five people were killed when the aircraft they were in descended nose first into the runway at Port Allen Airport on Kauai.

The crash Friday happened about 6:30 p.m., and the charred wreckage remains near the fence line at Dillingham Airfield. Homendy encouraged any witnesses who haven’t already done so to come forward so that investigators can re-create a timeline of the moments just before and after the crash.

She also asked for anyone with old photos of the plane involved to email them to witness@ntsb.gov. The tail number of the Beechcraft King twin-engine airplane is N256TA.

As part of their investigation, the NTSB will almost certainly be looking at whether a 2016 incident involving the same plane ― which left it with “substantial damage” ― contributed to Friday’s crash.

Over the next three to four days, Homendy said her team will remain on scene collecting “perishable evidence,” which includes parts of the plane, records, log books and more.

She said the plane was “about 5,500 feet from roll" when it crashed.

Those killed in the crash included a Colorado couple celebrating their one-year wedding anniversary in Hawaii, a Kauai man training to be a skydiving videographer, and a Navy sailor.

A preliminary NTSB report on the crash is expected within 10 to 14 days. The final report is usually released 18 to 24 months after an incident.

This story may be updated.

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