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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, April 7, 2005

Crash kills pilot; dad, girl survive

By Curtis Lum and Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writers

MOKULE'IA — A 22-year-old pilot was killed but two passengers escaped serious injury when a commercial tour glider crashed in a valley near Dillingham Airfield yesterday afternoon.

John Streich is helped from the rescue basket after being airlifted from the site of a glider crash near Dillingham Airfield.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

The glider, which was operated by Soar Hawaii Sailplanes Inc., was reported missing by company employees about 12:45 p.m. A private pilot spotted the wreckage and notified the Honolulu Fire Department about a half-hour later, Honolulu Fire Department spokesman Capt. Kenison Tejada said.

A 52-year-old man and his 12-year-old daughter, visitors from the Mainland, walked away from the plane. But rescuers had to extricate them and the pilot.

The pilot was identified by police last night as Tyler Nelson, a native of Wisconsin. He was lifted out of the area by the Coast Guard and taken to the airfield, where he was pronounced dead at 4:16 p.m., said Donnie Gates, assistant Emergency Medical Services chief.

The passengers, John Streich and his daughter, Ashley, were flown by Army medevac helicopter to The Queen's Medical Center, where they were treated for minor injuries. They were expected to be released last night.

Streich's wife, Karen, said the family is visiting from Gig Harbor, Wash., with another family from Tacoma.

At Queen's last night, Karen Streich said her loved ones were doing fine. Her husband described their harrowing experience and said the pilot did everything he could to prevent the crash.

"My husband said that they hit a downdraft and the pilot brought them out of it. But then they hit another one immediately thereafter and he did everything he could," Karen Streich said. "All of a sudden he couldn't pull it out and we're going down."

Karen Streich said the pilot landed the glider in "the best place that he could have landed them." But she said the glider came to rest upside-down, trapping the three inside.

Streich said the pilot had survived the impact, but her husband and daughter could not get to him.

"They couldn't do anything because he was behind them," she said. "They could hear him breathing at first."

Because the glider turned upside down, her husband and daughter couldn't see whether rescue crews had spotted them. Streich said her daughter used her camera to try to signal the helicopters.

"She had the camera around her neck and she did flash it because they could hear the helicopters but they didn't think they could see them," Karen Streich said. "They couldn't get out. They were upside down."

Ashley Streich walked to an ambulance after being airlifted from the site of a glider crash yesterday near Dillingham Airfield. The pilot was killed and the 12-year-old girl's father was injured in the crash.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

After more than two hours, fire rescuers were able to get to the scene.

"I'm so thankful," Karen Streich said. "They have a lot of angels watching over them."

Her husband told her it was a "scary" experience.

"It was a long wait for the rescue guys to come and get them, but they're doing fine. They feel extremely bad about the pilot," she said.

The Visitor Aloha Society was with the Streichs last night to provide aid to the family, said Jessica Lani Rich, VASH president and chief executive officer.

The Streichs were expected to continue their Hawai'i vacation and plan to fly to Kona later, Rich said.

Tejada said the wreckage appeared to be in two to three pieces. He said a fire rescue crew was lowered to the scene to assist the victims.

Friends and co-workers of Nelson described him as an outgoing, pleasant young man who liked to ride motorcycles.

Nelson had moved to Hawai'i from Madison, Wis., less than six months ago, they said.

Bob Whittinghill, owner of Polynesian Airways, said Nelson had a lot of flight experience for such a young pilot. Whittinghill's company rents and repairs airplanes and is located across the landing strip from Soar Hawaii.

"He's a good pilot," he said, shaking his head. "It's a hard thing."

Jim Skarban, who also works at Dillingham Airfield, said Nelson was a "cool guy" who was easy to talk to.

Tejada said it was cloudy and breezy in Mokule'ia yesterday, but it was not known if the weather played a factor in the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.

The glider was a red-and-white Schweitzer 2-33 model that seats three. Soar Hawaii has been in business for more than 24 years, according to the company's Web site. All pilots are FAA certified in flight experience and licensing. The firm is one of two commercial glider operators at Dillingham Airfield.

John and Ashley Streich were at the airfield with a father and daughter from Tacoma, Rich said. The Tacoma pair had just returned from a glider flight when the Streichs boarded the same glider.

Officials with Soar Hawaii could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Bill Star, owner of The Original Glider Rides, said there have been five fatal accidents involving gliders in the 35 years that he's been in business. Star said he did not know Nelson.

"I know that there was a young man out there. He had recently got his commercial pilot's license for gliders, which is required to take passengers for hire," he said.

Star said he had two planes flying in the area when the accident occurred, but he said he did not ask his pilots for details.

"We're saddened that anything would ever happen, but things could happen," he said. "The glider community at Dillingham Airfield consists of two primary commercial operators who are trying very hard to cooperate and do everything as safe as we can."

Reach Curtis Lum at culum@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8025.