Few details released on what happened in final moments before Kauai helicopter crash

Very little is known about what happened in the moments before a helicopter crashed Tuesday at Kauai's Pacific Missile Range Facility.
Published: Feb. 23, 2022 at 3:12 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 23, 2022 at 4:17 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - One day after a military-contracted helicopter crashed during a training mission at the Pacific Missile Range Facility, killing all four people onboard, very little has been made public about what took place in the final moments before the Sikorsky S-61N went down.

While it’s too early to know for sure what caused Tuesday’s crash at Barking Sands, one experienced Hawaii pilot says witness reports are providing important clues.

Ray L’Heureux, a retired Marine Corps helicopter pilot who commanded two squadrons during his 30-year career, used to fly the same type of helicopter involved in the Kauai crash.

“There’s a myriad of things that could have gone wrong. Control issues, automatic flight control issues, Servo issues. “We won’t know really what happened until all those facts are known,” he said.

But he said from his perspective, there could have also been an issue with the tail rotor.

“That’s the first thing that comes to my mind,” he said.

“If you lose that tail rotor or you lose authority to that tail rotor then the aircraft will start spinning. And that’s probably the worst case scenario for a helicopter pilot.”

The heavy lift chopper that went down Tuesday was owned by Croman Corporation, which flew it on a Navy contract. A public information officer for the Kauai installation told Hawaii News Now on Wednesday that the Navy is supporting the ongoing investigation into what went wrong.

“We can say that the helicopter was flying in support of a training operation on the base,” said spokesperson Tom Clements. “PMRF is a small community and obviously we are mourning the loss of members of our ohana.”

All four of those killed in the crash were civilian Croman Corporation employees. Three were Kauai residents, while the fourth listed a home residence in Washington state.

Witness Chris Turner, a tour boat captain, said he’s seen the helicopter that went down before ― hundreds of time. And when it passed overhead about 10 a.m. Tuesday, nothing seemed unusual.

Moments later, it had crashed.

Officials confirm the chopper was carrying an object crew members had just retrieved from the ocean and was in the process of placing that object on the ground at PMRF when something went wrong.

“It was kind of southeast and then it tweaked to the right and then it immediately went straight down and went nose down at an accelerated speed,” Turner said.

NTSB investigators arrived Wednesday on Kauai and are in the process of documenting the scene and examining the aircraft. In a statement, officials said radar data, air traffic control communication, maintenance records and the pilots’ medical records will all be a part of the investigation.

L’Heureux noted that the aircrew in the crash was seasoned.

“They had a lot of time under their belt,” he said. “There’s no doubt in my mind they were trained and had all the attributes to pull off that mission.”

The NTSB says it will release a preliminary report next month.

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