NTSB surveys tour helicopter crash site, begins process of removing wreckage

Updated: Dec. 31, 2019 at 4:05 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The NTSB has begun the difficult process of removing the wreckage of a Kauai tour helicopter that crashed in remote, steep terrain last week.

Meanwhile, Kauai authorities on Tuesday released the identities of a family of four from Switzerland that was on the downed aircraft.

Kauai County said they could confirm the identities of the family as Christophe and Sylvie Winteregg, ages 49 and 50, respectively, and their children, 13-year-old Alice and 10-year-old Agathe.

The crash killed the helicopter’s pilot and all six passengers, including three children.

Authorities had previously identified the pilot as 69-year-old Paul Matero. The two other passengers were visiting from Wisconsin: 47-year-old Amy Gannon and her 13-year-old daughter, Jocelyn.

“We have recovered as much as we can from the site so that families can hopefully find some sense of closure,” said Kauai Police Department assistant Chief Bryson Ponce, in a news release Tuesday.

“Our deepest, heartfelt condolences go out to everyone who was touched by this tragedy.”

On Monday, the NTSB conducted an aerial survey of the crash site ― in a remote and rugged area of Kokee about 13 miles north of Hanapepe.

And in announcing plans Tuesday to begin the process of removing the wreckage, the NTSB also released new details on the crash:

  • The agency said the helicopter “collided with terrain” at 4:57 p.m. Thursday. According to Kauai County, that’s 17 minutes after authorities made their the final contact with the chopper’s pilot.
  • The helicopter hit a ridge at an altitude of 2,900 feet then fell about 100 feet.
  • After the crash, the NTSB said, the helicopter burst into flames.

Investigators are hoping to move the wreckage to a secure location in the days ahead.

The four-person NTSB team on Kauai includes experts on airworthiness, operations and family assistance. There are also investigators working in Washington, D.C. who will evaluate the weather at the time of the crash and other potential factors.

The terrain where the helicopter crashed has been complicating matters. Federal investigators are calling the area one of the most challenging crash sites they have seen.

[Read more: Cliffs, jungle a big hurdle for feds in Kauai helicopter crash]

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

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

Authorities have said the Eurocopter AS350 B2 aircraft that crashed, which belonged to Safari Helicopter, was due to return from a tour of the Na Pali Coast 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. First responders found the wreckage the following day.

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.

This story will be updated.

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