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Mechanic blames himself for causing copter's crash

Brant Swigart says he did not notice a cable error during the craft's last overhaul

By Jennifer Sinco Kelleher

Associated Press


A helicopter's crash-landing in downtown Hono­lulu that badly damaged a parked car and left a cut on a passenger's head could have been deadly.

The mechanic who owns the company that last worked on the helicopter is wracked with guilt over that possibility. He said it's his fault the copter went down.

"In my mind they're both dead, and I can't get it out of my mind," Brant Swi­gart said Friday of pilot Julia Link and passenger Karl Hedberg, a photographer taking aerial shots.

The National Transportation Safety Board called Swi­gart, who owns Hawaii Air Power Labs, Inc., to the scene of Wednesday's crash landing to help dismantle the helicopter and haul it away.

Without touching it as the helicopter sat in his hangar that night, Swi­gart saw what caused it — and blamed himself.

"The very first thing I looked at was the mixture cable, and it was broken," he said. He then called the Federal Aviation Administration, which sent inspectors over the next morning who confirmed the snapped cable was the cause.

The mixture cable rigging was incorrect and didn't allow for the cable to relieve tension as it moved back and forth. While those cables are known to break, a backup spring was also rigged incorrectly, he said.

Swigart, 46, and his mechanics completed an overhaul of the two-seat 1992 Robinson R22 Beta in April. They all reviewed each other's work, and he took it on a test flight himself. Still, the incorrect rigging that caused the cable to snap was overlooked.

"The guy who actually put it together is inexperienced," Swi­gart said. "I'm not laying blame on him. I missed it."

Coming forward to Hawaii News Now, where he has friends he trusts, was Swi­gart's attempt to clear the names of the pilot and her employer, Mauna Loa Helicopters. And he knew that eventually the FAA would disclose its findings.

"I felt it was more respectable to self-disclose," he said. "I knew for a fact that if there was any maintenance discrepancy, it would be my fault."

The NTSB is leading the investigation.

"We have not interviewed the mechanic, but may possibly do so at some point as the investigation continues," spokes­man Keith Holloway said.

Mauna Loa Helicopters President Benjamin Fouts said he's not surprised Swi­gart is blaming himself. "That's the guy I've trusted with my life every flight hour I've flown in Hawaii, and I've never had a problem," Fouts said. "I wish there were a lot more people like Brant. That takes a lot of courage. In today's world a lot of people run from responsibility."

Swigart understands that taking the blame will have consequences.

"I'm sure I'm wide open for any liability anyone wants to throw at me," he said.

While he's worried about his business and his family, he can't stop thinking about what if there were children on the street, which is in an area that has a lot of pedestrian traffic from offices, Hawaii Pacific University and a large apartment complex.

"Everyone says, ‘You're being so noble and so honest,'" he said. "I have to wonder what everybody would be saying if there were a bunch of dead people. I don't feel good about it."

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tiwtsfm wrote:
This is refreshing to hear someone take responsibility for anything. We continually hear those is charge passing blame and denying responsibility for an outcome, be it a crash, a bank failure, or the failure to properly educate our children. Mr Swigart, you are a fine example for all of us. No one was hurt and a fine lesson learned. You can now move on to continue to make aviation safer for all of us.
on May 11,2013 | 06:10AM
mfox wrote:
I am proud to know Brant and count him as a friend. HIs coming forward and taking responsibility like this is entirely consistent with everything I know and respect about him.
on May 11,2013 | 07:02AM
popaa wrote:
Mr. Swigart, you are the man. Learn from this and move on. Remember, there is a reason for erasers on pencils.
on May 11,2013 | 07:43AM
Kalaheo1 wrote:
I wish we had more Brant Swi­gart's in this world.

I honestly can't remember the last time anyone willingly took responsibility for anything.

on May 11,2013 | 08:01AM
volcanohereicome wrote:
This is a man you can count on in any emergency! It's not often people step up to the plate and take ownership when bad things happen. Thank you for setting such a sterling example to us all/1
on May 11,2013 | 11:39AM
jnantkes wrote:
Mr Swigart should be named business man of the year for his honesty and integrity!
on May 11,2013 | 03:25PM
mrluke wrote:
I don't think this guy realizes what he just stepped into. With all the sharks circling out there I hope that he doesn't end up getting bitten by it.
on May 11,2013 | 04:31PM
lumahai wrote:
He could have kept quiet or blamed others. Refreshing, honest, integrity, forthright. Great example for his kids and others. A rare gem.
on May 11,2013 | 05:31PM
LMO wrote:
Yes, he did the right thing by coming forward, but I don't know if I would trust him in the future. He overlooked something that led to a crash. Admitting this in hindsight does not prevent a future mistake!
on May 15,2013 | 02:42AM
Hugo wrote:
Former mechanic. The rigging of control cables on aircraft is designed to be "mechanic proof". It is usually put two pins in two pukas and tension up the cable. Springs are preloaded to the "oh shoot" position. There is "smoke and mirrors". On aircraft, it is "we do it with springs". Think of a throttle spring on a car. Spring loaded to the "oh shoot" position. Great by the pilot. I suspect the seat cushions were terminal.
on May 16,2013 | 05:50PM
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