‘We heard a pop’: Students were on a field trip at PMRF when chopper crash happened

Four people were killed Tuesday when a military-contracted helicopter crashed at Kauai’s Pacific Missile Range Facility.
Published: Feb. 22, 2022 at 8:38 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 22, 2022 at 11:35 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Among the witnesses Tuesday of a helicopter crash that left four dead on Kauai were a group of students visiting the Pacific Missile Range Facility for a field trip.

The group of about 20 students and teachers were touring the facility’s fire station and had seen a helicopter flying around. Then they heard a loud bang.

“We heard a pop. We didn’t know what it was,” said 13-year-old Chloe Ayonon, who was visiting the base. “Our tour guides had no clue. Like, we didn’t know if it’s like a vehicle that crashed or something. And then they said that it was an aircraft.”

Chloe said she and her classmates had been looking and walking inside of the fire trucks when everyone started to tell them to get out.

“I thought it was just like maybe a fire or something. I didn’t think that something actually like, I didn’t think it was that serious,” she said.

She said everyone was scrambling around to respond to the crash, leaving her and her group behind.

“We walked outside and there was this big smoke cloud,” Chloe said.

Others in the area captured video and pictures of a huge dark plume of smoke billowing against a clear blue sky.

“Absolutely perfect, there were no clouds, winds were less than 5 mph on leeward side,” said Chris Turner, who witnessed the crash.

The helicopter, owned and operated by Oregon-based contractor Croman Corporation, was seen hauling in Naval ballistics from the ocean.

“We’ve seen that helicopter a thousand times, you know it basically it carries the leftover cartridge from the military,” Turner said.

While returning to Barking Sands, the Sikorsky S-61 suddenly lost control just after 10 a.m. Tuesday.

“The heli tweaked to the right, and then immediately went straight down, nose down in an accelerated speed straight down.” In the blink of an eye, Turner said the helicopter dropped about a thousand feet.

Rebecca Leibbrandt, a crew member for Blue Ocean Adventure Tours, also witnessed the crash.

“The next thing I know my Captain Jesse, she like pointed out something to me. I look up and it’s a big mushroom cloud of smoke,” she said. “To hear that there are casualties it’s just very sad. My heart goes out to everyone that was involved.”

The military and helicopter company have not released the names of the four people who died in the crash.

Furthermore, witnesses said they don’t believe the chopper suffered any kind of engine problems.

Information on the exact cause of the crash is under investigation by the NTSB, FAA and officials from Croman.

This story will be updated.

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