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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, March 1, 2002

'95 copter rescue recordings in question

By David Waite
Advertiser Courts Writer

An attorney for the widows of two Honolulu police officers who were killed in Ka'a'awa in 1995 while being airlifted by a Honolulu Fire Department helicopter to help search for a missing hiker accused the city or department workers yesterday of altering tape recordings of radio conversations .

According to court papers filed by the lawyer, the conversations took place just before and shortly after the helicopter lifted off on the fatal flight.

City Corporation Council David Arakawa issued a statement saying Fire Department officials followed normal procedures in providing the tapes, but he did not address the tampering allegation directly.

Killed in the crash July 21, 1995, were officers Bryant Bayne and Tate Kahakai, and pilot Peter Crown.

Attorney William Saunders, who represents Renise Bayne and Valerie Kahakai, said a recording provided to his office was altered by unknown persons. The recording was of conversations between the helicopter pilot and ground crews and other Fire Department workers that reflect what was going on in the minutes leading up to the crash, he said.

Saunders said the missing portions were discovered when the copy of the tape his office was given was compared with one turned over by Fire Department officials to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The board eventually concluded that Crown became disoriented by rapidly deteriorating weather and that the chopper's main rotor became tangled in the cable leading to a basket in which Kahakai and Bayne were being transported, causing the helicopter to slam into the side of a mountain.

Saunders said recordings made by Channel 2 News of Fire Department communications on the day of the crash clearly show that a number of firefighters were expressing concerns about using the helicopter in dicey weather conditions that were growing worse by the minute.

But those conversations were not included in the tapes the city turned over to his office or the transportation board, Saunders said.

Saunders made an appeal yesterday to anyone with knowledge about the tapes allegedly being altered to call his office.

Arakawa said the case is weak so the plaintiffs are now attempting to try it in the news media.

"The city is not a defendant in the case and never has been," Arakawa's statement said.

Of the 12 city employees or former city employees who were sued as individuals in the case, only three remain, Arakawa said.

The plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed six, while the court dismissed three others, Arakawa said.

Arakawa said Fire Department officials "followed the normal procedures for obtaining a copy of the radio transmissions which were requested by the NTSB."

"Other than to say that the plaintiffs complaints regarding the audio tape have already been considered by the court in a previous proceeding and ruled upon, the city declines further comment," Arakawa said in the statement.

He could not be reached directly to address Saunders' assertion that the tape provided to the transportation board is more complete than the one given to Saunders or why neither of the tapes include conversations recorded by Channel 2.

A hearing on Saunders' request for sanctions against unnamed city employees who allegedly altered the recordings is set for March 25 before Circuit Judge Gary Chang. The trial on the civil lawsuit is scheduled for April 9.

Reach David Waite at dwaite@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8030.