4 bodies retrieved from copter crash
By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Kaua'i Bureau
LIHU'E, Kaua'i Firefighters were stranded in heavy clouds several times yesterday in their effort to recover the bodies of the five victims of Wednesday's tour helicopter crash.
"It's right up in the cloud line. The clouds tend to stack up against the mountain. The weather is very volatile," said Kaua'i Fire Department Battalion Chief Bob Kaden.
Families from across the nation have been calling and e-mailing police, fire departments and news organizations trying to find out if their vacationing relatives were among those who were aboard the Jack Harter Helicopters Bell 206B Jet Ranger.
The only victim identified thus far is the pilot, 44-year-old Mark Lundgren of Puhi. Lundgren, who is survived by a wife and three grown children, is a retired Navy lieutenant commander whose last station was the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands.
The other victims are said to be two couples from the Mainland.
Lundgren was described by friends and colleagues as a veteran pilot who has flown on Kaua'i for several years and knew the island well.
Federal Aviation Administration investigator Gino Rezzonico said the last radio transmission from Lundgren shortly after 9 a.m. Wednesday gave no sense that anything was wrong. The pilot reported he was leaving the north wall of the Wai'ale'ale crater, which would have been near the end of a one-hour helicopter tour.
Rezzonico said the transmission was overheard by personnel from another helicopter company. The radio traffic was not recorded, he said.
Lundgren had taken off shortly after 8 a.m. with four passengers. Kaden said authorities are reluctant to release the victims' names without confirming that the bodies at the crash site are the people named on the tour company's manifest.
"There have been situations where the passenger manifest is inaccurate," he said.
Kaden said the helicopter wreckage appeared confined to a fairly small area, and that the bodies were within or near what was left of the aircraft. One passenger, a woman, was still alive and conscious when the first firefighters arrived at the scene via ropes strung from a hovering helicopter Wednesday afternoon, but clouds prevented a rescue and she died around 3 p.m., six hours after the presumed time of the crash.
The crash area is near and several hundred feet below Wai'ale'ale. Kaden said photographs suggest it is on a ledge on a cliffside.
Neither Rezzonico nor National Transportation Safety Board investigator Wayne Pollock, who arrived yesterday to take over the investigation, had been to the crash site. Rezzonico said he hoped they would be able to fly by it today, but would not insist on it if the weather is questionable. "We will not put anybody else in danger," he said.
"At this point we have absolutely no information as to the cause of the accident," Rezzonico said.
He said the FAA's responsibility is to determine whether the pilot followed flight rules and established procedures and to determine whether rules need to be amended or changed.
Pollock, who flew in from Los Angeles, will try to determine the cause of the crash. He said he would seek an immediate briefing by the FAA and would meet with officials from Jack Harter Helicopters.
Reach Jan TenBruggencate at email@example.com or (808) 245-3074.