A passenger’s jump from a chopper into Kaneohe Bay prompts federal probe

Federal authorities open investigation after helicopter spotted hovering feet above Kaneohe sandbar

KANEOHE, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating after cameras caught a helicopter flying low above boaters and beachgoers at the Kaneohe sandbar on Sunday.

At one point in the video clip sent to Hawaii News Now, you can see a passenger jumping out of the aircraft and into the ocean.

The helicopter is a Robinson R44 ― the same model as the helicopters involved in last October’s crash at the sandbar that injured three people and the fiery April crash in Kailua that killed three.

Records indicate the chopper is privately-owned.

The owner of the helicopter did not return requests for comment, so it’s unknown what the pilot and passengers were doing at the sandbar.

But those familiar with the area say it was a risky stunt.

"As long as we've been out here, we've never seen anything like that," said Michael Riollano, captain and operations manager for tour company Sea Hawaii. "You don't do that out here."

Riollano says the incident put those on the ground as well as the helicopter’s passengers at risk.

The former rescue swimmer for the Navy says jumping from a chopper takes proper training and equipment.

“No. 1, we had a safety boat in the water. No. 2, we’re well aware of the depth (of the water). There’s coral reef out there, you might hit the bottom. You risk paralysis, broken bones. That’s why people don’t do it,” said Riollano.

When asked about the rules, FAA officials say pilots cannot pose a hazard to people or property on the ground or on the water.

Meanwhile, community leaders have been demanding stiffer regulations and enforcement.

“We have communities where there are literally hundreds of flights a day over them,” said state Sen. Laura Thielen, who represents Kailua and Waimanalo.

“As best I can tell, with a private helicopter owner, there is just no regulation. So you got some guy going to the sandbar and endangering everybody in that location, which is just outrageous.”

Traumatized residents have called for a "no-fly zone" above residential areas, and elected officials say they've been pushing the FAA and Hawaii Helicopter Association to step up.

“I don’t appreciate a tour operator or even a private entity putting other people in danger for whatever thrill they were trying to provide to a customer or to a friend,” said Mo Radke, chair of the Kaneohe Neighborhood Board.

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