Kauai authorities confirm pilot, 6 passengers were killed in tour chopper crash

Published: Dec. 28, 2019 at 6:53 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Kauai authorities confirmed that there were no survivors in a tour helicopter crash Thursday in a remote area of the islands.

On Saturday, three victims were identified:

  • Pilot Paul Matero, 69, of Wailua;
  • And two passengers from Wisconsin — 47-year-old Amy Gannon and her 13-year-old daughter, Jocelyn.

The other four individuals killed in the crash have not yet been named.

Meanwhile, the tour company involved in the incident released a statement Saturday, offering its condolences to the families of those lost and saying it was cooperating with the investigation into the crash.

[Read more: Tour company releases statement on Kauai helicopter crash that killed 7]

[Read more: Wisconsin mother, daughter among victims of Kauai chopper crash]

“The Safari Helicopter family, along with the broader community, mourn the loss of seven lives that were on Thursday’s sightseeing flight,” the company said, in the statement.

“We mourn with the family members of those who were lost in the tragic accident.”

The company said Matero was its chief pilot, with 12 years of experience on Kauai.

The newly-released information comes as NTSB investigators begin the arduous task of trying to determine what went wrong in the moments before the crash Thursday evening.

Authorities have said they recovered the remains of six of the victims, and are searching for the seventh.

Confirmation of the fatalities came Friday afternoon — roughly 24 hours after the helicopter went missing.

At the same availability, a somber Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami offered his condolences to the families of the victims and called the situation over the course of the day “dynamic.”

“We ask for your continued thoughts and prayers,” he said. “We are heartbroken by this tragedy and we continue to ask the public to consider the sensitive nature of this devastating situation.”

First responders found the chopper wreckage about 9:30 am. Friday in a remote and rugged area of Kokee, about 13 miles north of Hanapepe.

They were able to remove six sets of remains from the crash site before fog and poor visibility forced them to suspend the search until Saturday.

The FAA said the helicopter that went down was a Eurocopter AS350 B2.

Three NTSB investigators were to arrive in the islands Saturday to begin the work of trying to determine what caused the crash. Authorities have not said whether they believe weather was a factor, but did say the helicopter went down on a “prescribed route," indicating that the pilot didn’t deviate on the way back to Lihue.

The aircraft was due to return from the Na Pali Coast tour at 5:21 p.m. Thursday.

When the helicopter didn’t get back by 6 p.m., the Coast Guard was alerted and a search was launched.

According to a preliminary report, authorities made their final contact with the helicopter around 4:40 p.m., when the pilot reported that the tour was leaving the Waimea Canyon area.

The aircraft belongs to Safari Helicopters, a tour helicopter company based in Lihue. Company officials declined to comment Friday.

In a statement Friday afternoon, Gov. David Ige said the state has offered its support as recovery operations continue.

“Our thoughts are with the families of those onboard as search and rescue crews work at the site of the helicopter crash on Kauai," he said.

[Read more: Hawaii has seen 18 civilian helicopter crashes in the last five years]

The aircraft was equipped with an electronic locator, but it didn’t go off. After the chopper went missing, the Coast Guard launched a search by air and sea.

The Navy, Civil Air Patrol, Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Kauai National Guard, and commercial helicopters subsequently joined the search.

Petty Officer 1st Class Robert Cox, of Coast Guard Joint Rescue Command Center Honolulu, said weather conditions in the search area were “challenging" with low visibility and blustery winds.

The incident is the third helicopter crash in Hawaii so far this year.

In April, a helicopter went down on a busy Kailua street, killing all three people onboard.

That same month, a state-contracted helicopter crashed in Sacred Falls Valley on Oahu’s North Shore. Four people in the craft escaped injury.

Other recent incidents include:

This story will be updated.

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