POSTED: 01:04 p.m. HST, Nov 10, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 08:49 p.m. HST, Nov 10, 2011
Five people died today in a fiery helicopter crash in east Molokai.
Maui County spokesman Rod Antone said four bodies were recovered and a fifth found under the wreckage.
Blue Hawaiian Helicopters official Patti Chevalier said the firm was cooperating with the investigation and was still trying to piece together what happened.
“We're all puzzled,” she said,
The investigation will be handled by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The pilot was tentatively identified as Nathan Cline, 30, of Kahului, Maui.
Maui County officials said at least two of the four passengers were newlyweds.
The couples were from Pennsylvania and Ontario, Canada, and initial indications are that none of the four was in Hawaii to attend this week’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit on Oahu, Antone said.
The crash happened in low cloud cover on the eastern part of the island at about the 1,000-foot elevation in an area of scrub brush popular with deer hunters, according to witnesses.
Molokai Police Sgt. Randy Esperanza said the first emergency call came in at 12:14 p.m.
Ian Gregor, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration's Pacific Division, said the chopper crashed and was "engulfed in flames.”
Firefighters made their way up to the site with vehicles and by foot within a half-hour after the crash, said Richard Stevens, principal of Kilohana Elementary School.
He said “a lot of us heard what we thought was thunder” about 12:15 p.m. today.
Outside, another witness heard a helicopter that sounded like it was autorotating — an emergency maneuver, about a quarter-mile behind the school.
Ualapue resident Wren Wescoatt said he heard a very loud "whoop" and saw flames from the helicopter crash about two miles inland from the main highway.
Wescoatt said there were heavy rain squalls coming through the area.
Stevens said emergency response vehicles gathered behind the school. He said there are no ambulances among them.
Stevens said the 71 students at the K-6 school remained in their classrooms. Classes ended at 2 p.m. at the school, about 13 miles from Kaunakakai.
Antone said the aircraft is a Eurocopter model EC-130 B4.
On July 21, 2000, a Blue Hawaiian Helicopters aircraft slammed into the side of a ridge in Iao Valley, Maui, killing all seven aboard.
On Jan. 7, 1982, three Coast Guard aviators flying a Sikorsky HH-52A Seaguard helicopter were killed in a crash on a steep ridge in Molokai’s Wailau Valley. The crew was responding to a distress call from a 74-foot fishing boat that was taking on water off Maui.
Lt. Colleen Cain, the Coast Guard’s first woman pilot, was killed in the crash.
On May 18, 1980, six Marines and one Navy corpsman were killed and two other Marines were severely burned when a Sea Stallion helicopter crashed soon after takeoff 3.5 miles east of Molokai Airport.