By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writer
A Paradise Helicopters tour with five people aboard made a crash landing Thursday in a field not much more than 700 feet from a runway at Hilo International Airport.
Preliminary reports were that no one was injured in the crash, said Caroline Sluyter, spokeswoman for the Hawaii Department of Transportation.
“The cause is under investigation at this time,” she said Thursday afternoon.
Ian Gregor, public affairs manager for the Federal Aviation Administration Pacific Region, said via email Thursday evening that the FAA will investigate the crash.
The helicopter pilot declared an emergency on approach to the Hilo airport due to engine failure, he said, and “auto rotated into a field near the airport and came to rest on its side.”
The site of the crash was a small, grassy field mauka of Airport Road and Runway No. 321 of the airport, directly in front of the County Department of Water Supply’s Hilo Baseyard.
The passengers appeared to have been able to escape the vehicle without injury before rescue workers arrived. Hawaii County Fire Department crash team members wearing silver fire proximity suits surrounded the empty helicopter within minutes of the call being issued, although there appeared to be no smoke or fire at the scene.
Meanwhile, state Department of Transportation employees formed a circular barricade out of orange cones and yellow emergency line tape.
The white helicopter lay on its right side, its rotor blades twisted and bent — a sign that they may have still been rotating as they made contact with the ground.
Paradise Helicopters employees stood in a cluster inside the barricade, watching as police and fire responders went about their work securing the scene. A spokesman for Paradise Helicopters, who only gave his name as Carlos, said he couldn’t answer any questions about the crash.
“There’s an investigation going on right now, and we can’t comment on anything until that has been completed,” he said as he walked outside the barricade line.
An information sheet on the Paradise Helicopters website, www.paradisecopters.com, says the company uses two different types of helicopters for its tours: a four-passenger Hughes 500 — the same helicopter featured in the classic TV show “Magnum P.I.;” and a six-passenger Bell 407, featuring limousine-style seating, larger fuel capacity, faster travel speeds, larger windows, and smoother, more comfortable rides.
Gregor reported in his email, however, that the helicopter involved in the crash, bearing tail number N500PH, was a McDonnell Douglas 500E. The FAA Registry, at registry.faa.gov, lists N500PH as a McDonnell Douglas 369E registered to K&S Helicopters Inc. of Kailua-Kona. K&S Helicopters owns and operates both Tropical Helicopters and Paradise Helicopters, according to the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.
“Our pilots provide you with the best tour, excellent narration and knowledge of the island,” reads a Frequently Asked Questions section of the Paradise Helicopters website. “We conduct training annually and all pilots must pass an FAA flight check. We also bring outside professional instructors into our company every year to evaluate and train our pilots in the latest techniques and information.”
A review of the National Transportation Safety Board’s records shows there have been two helicopter incidents at Hilo Airport investigated by the NTSB since 2005.
On Oct. 2, 2006, a K&S Helicopters Inc. tour operating a McDonnell Douglas 369E made a hard landing shortly after takeoff, due to “cyclic control difficulty.” The vehicle was 5-10 feet above the ground when the pilot aborted the takeoff and impacted the ground, collapsing the right skid.
The pilot and two passengers were uninjured, while two additional passengers sustained minor injuries. The helicopter sustained “substantial damage,” the report reads.
Then, on Feb. 7, 2008, a different McDonnell Douglas 369E operated by Tropical Helicopters also sustained substantial damage after a “forced landing” following a loss of engine power shortly after departure from Hilo Airport. In that case, the helicopter rolled over onto its left side after touching down in tall, dense grass, the report states. The pilot and four passengers sustained minor injuries.
Email Colin M. Stewart at email@example.com.