Luck steps in as helicopter crashes, rolls near Wahiawa
By Scott Ishikawa
Advertiser Staff Writer
Three men were lucky to escape serious injury yesterday after their helicopter crashed and rolled about 100 feet down the steep Ko'olau Mountains.
Federal Aviation Administration officials believe the Hughes 500 helicopter became entangled in vines while taking off near the 1,800-foot-high Ka'aumakua Ridge above Schofield Barracks' East Range outside Wahiawa, then rolled down the mountain. Officials say three men were in the helicopter when it crashed at 10:20 a.m.
The private helicopter and its pilot had been contracted by the Army's Directorate of Public Works to fly a crew of three civilian environmental specialists to inspect endangered plants on military property. The inspections are conducted every three months, according to Army Capt. Stacy Bathrick, spokeswoman for the 25th Infantry Division (Light) and U.S. Army, Hawai'i.
The Army had contracted the helicopter and pilot from Cherry Helicopters, based on the North Shore, for the environmental inspections.
The two male environmental specialists, believed to be in their 20s, were treated and released from Wahiawa General. A woman in her 20s who was standing outside the craft when it rolled down the ridge, was not hurt.
Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Tweet Coleman said the craft was attempting to take off from a small landing pad near the 1,800-foot-high ridge, when it became caught in some shrubbery and rolled down the steep ridge.
The craft continued rolling downhill and ended up on its side along a flat area 100 feet below the landing pad, according to Honolulu Fire Department spokesman Capt. Kenison Tejada.
"We were told that the copter may have continued down the ridge if it hadn't hit that flat spot," Tejada said. "It was very, very fortunate where they stopped."
Army officials contacted Honolulu fire officials shortly after the crash, and rescue helicopters were at the scene within 15 minutes, Tejada said.
Tejada said when fire helicopter crews reached the scene, they found the pilot and woman near the landing pad, while the other two men were still 100 feet below near the wrecked helicopter. Officials did not say how the pilot managed to climb back to the landing-pad area with his craft 100 feet below.
Tejada said a Honolulu fire helicopter was able to transport the pilot and woman from the area, but the two men below had to be plucked out by an Army medevac helicopter because of the rough terrain.
The injured were flown to a lower part of the East Range Training Area near Schofield Barracks, then taken by ambulance to Wahiawa General Hospital.
Bathrick said the Army hired a civilian helicopter for the environmental inspections because the Hughes 500 helicopter is more adept at maneuvering and landing in constricted areas.
Coleman said FAA inspectors today will interview the pilot and fly to the crash site to study the wreckage. Because there were no fatalities, the National Transportation Safety Board will not be brought in, Coleman said.
"We'll also look at the helicopter logs to check for possible mechanical failure," she said.
The FAA will also look at yesterday morning's weather conditions. Fire officials say it was windy along the Ko'olau.
"From the information we got so far, the people inside the craft were pretty lucky," Coleman said.
Staff writer Mike Gordon contributed to this report.
Reach Scott Ishikawa at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 535-8110.