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Mechanic: Cable snap caused Honolulu crash landing

By Jennifer Sinco Kelleher

LAST UPDATED: 03:14 p.m. HST, May 10, 2013

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 wrought 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 today 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-seater 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 an 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 National Transportation Safety Board 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 any one 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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ross13moon wrote:
What goes up must come down...why can't these flying machine restrict flight to less populated ares ???
on May 10,2013 | 12:39PM
BigdogMD wrote:
Nobody's perfect my brother. You have already manned up, it's all you can do. Learn from it and move forward.
on May 10,2013 | 12:41PM
808warriorfan wrote:
on May 10,2013 | 06:57PM
my_opinion_only wrote:
Yep. Amazing. NO one admits responsibility these days. Wonderful. Verrrrry good man. There's a lesson here.... actually several lessons.
on May 10,2013 | 08:50PM
Skyler wrote:
Hear, hear. Couldn't have said it better. For everyone's sake, glad it wasn't 'worst case' scenario.
on May 10,2013 | 09:58PM
sccoutt wrote:
This guy is pretty awesome. I'm impressed with his honesty and integrity, but most of all, that he spoke up.
on May 10,2013 | 10:08PM
HawaiiCheeseBall wrote:
Stand up guy. Bigdog MD is right, learn from it and move on. You are going to be turning the wrench for many more years.
on May 10,2013 | 12:49PM
McB0B wrote:
Mr Swigart wouldn't last 10 seconds in politics with a conscience like that.
on May 10,2013 | 12:59PM
patk wrote:
Swigart for Governor, Mayor, House, Senate, everything.
on May 10,2013 | 01:52PM
Maili2 wrote:
I know seriously right. Honestly like this guy is a rare thing! So glad for him that nobody was hurt. I bet he's going to be an even better mechanic now, going to be in hot demand!
on May 10,2013 | 03:38PM
Anonymous wrote:
What a refreshing admission from the normal back-pedaling, deflecting blame, and denial of any responsibility that is so often the norm. You've earned my respect, Mr. Swigart.
on May 10,2013 | 01:21PM
Oio wrote:
Mr. Swigart, in my book, is an honorable man. His taking full responsibility of what happened as owner of the Company that worked on the helicopter is exceptional. Men and Women of Honor are rare indeed, but truly standout in situations like this. Miraculously, no one got hurt or killed!!
on May 10,2013 | 01:39PM
patk wrote:
Wow, some real character, a true man. Like the mythical unicorn. You never see people take responsibility when their own butt is on the line to this degree.
It's unfortunate that he overlooked this mistake at the time. I hope everything works out for him and his company.
on May 10,2013 | 01:49PM
patk wrote:
Swigart is the mythical Unicorn. A person with true courageous character who accepts responsibility under dire circumstances. Unheard of in today's litigious society.
on May 10,2013 | 01:53PM
aomohoa wrote:
Now this is what taking responsibility is about.
on May 10,2013 | 02:10PM
Masami wrote:
I truly respect Mr. Swigart's honesty, yet for the occupation that he's in "mistakes" which threaten life cannot be ignored. Not sure if a "second chance" applies in this profession. Tough one..............
on May 10,2013 | 02:37PM
Anonymous wrote:
It does.
on May 10,2013 | 05:47PM
sixthsense wrote:
Such an honest guy. We ALL make mistakes. We might not appreciate making them, but as long as we live, there will always be mistakes made. And he owned up to it! Though, not enough credit is being given to the female pilot. Kudos to her too!!!
on May 10,2013 | 02:46PM
readergirl wrote:
I couldn't believe it when I saw him on the news last night claiming responsibility, especially in this day and age when everyone is suing everybody else for everything. I was amazed and so impressed with him. On I think Inside Edition the other night, they showed this young woman who had too many drinks and fell overboard and was in the ocean for hours. The ship finally turned around and happy ending, they saved her. But now she is suing the cruise line. She had too many to drink and she fell overboard and is taking NO responsibility. So it is amazing what Mr. Swigart is doing, his family should actually be proud of him.
on May 10,2013 | 03:00PM
pgkemp wrote:
one gotta remember, there were no lives lost, which i am very relieved, but would he still admit it if there were ............god bless the pilot...........
on May 10,2013 | 03:26PM
Anonymous wrote:
I salute Mr. Swigert for his honesty and accountability. I'd bet a lot of money that neither he nor any of his mechanics would let something like that slip through again. The helicopters he services will probably be the safest ones in the sky.
on May 10,2013 | 03:13PM
Anonymous wrote:
His parents raised him right and should be very proud of him.
on May 10,2013 | 03:14PM
rayhawaii wrote:
I had a dream about this crash less than a week before it happened and told a few people a helicopter would crash. Didn't know it would be Hawaii but did see the tall buildings. Usually its a plane crash dream. First time a helicopter dream. Happens every time.
on May 10,2013 | 03:26PM
slowroll323 wrote:
An honorable man. Very rare in any profession today, especially, aviation. Most people in responsible positions who should be held accountable, lawyer up immediately and deny everything. And, sadly, they survive to strike again.
on May 10,2013 | 03:44PM
Graham wrote:
One job this man could never have...White House Spokeman....
on May 10,2013 | 04:08PM
Graham wrote:
Correction "Spokesman"
on May 10,2013 | 04:11PM
Having a past history in aviation, including an aircraft mechanic"s license and an aviation insurance claims background, Mr Swigart's description of the cause appears "pretty cut and dried". He apparently made a mistake as the signoff inspector of a junior mechanic. He is also right that when helicopters comes down due to mechanical failure, it can be downright catastrophic, due to serious component failures causing the machine to spin out of control or even in some cases actually fall out of the sky, and if they are not within parameters to autorotate ( sufficient altitude and/or airspeed) with engine failure.. Luckily here, it appears there was the means to conduct an autorotation. Not that it was his intention, but perhaps his admission of liability (don't know how his insurance company will react - hopefully they will not try to deny coverage for his speaking out somehow, as insurance is there to cover even if you screw up within the provisions of the policy) will somehow help mitigate the anger and any litigation by others affected. It seems pretty clear that the FAA will eventually find this as the cause, as he said. As others indicated, it is really rare to be upfront about what happened and he gets kudos for that, versus the usual denial of liability and endless legal proceedings to avoid.
on May 10,2013 | 04:16PM
uhprof wrote:
That's "wracked with guilt." "Wrought" means something else entirely. Sorry, I'm an English prof.
on May 10,2013 | 06:25PM
st1d wrote:
the thing about aircraft mechanics and in-flight mishaps: when it comes down to finding what part failed the nstb will find it. when they do, every mechanic that touched that part will be investigated and the part will be checked for authenticity. if they find fault with the mechanic, you can be sure that every part he touched in other aircrafts will be double checked for accuracy in overhaul and install.

still, got to give him props for standing up right away and explaining what happened, helps speed the investigation and corrections to overhaul/annual procedures.

on May 10,2013 | 07:21PM
mikethenovice wrote:
Companies are cash strapped during these difficult economic times.. We still have a responsibility to maintain our equipment.
on May 10,2013 | 07:46PM
Forever_Grateful wrote:
Brada Brant ... please quit worrying about the "what ifs" ... it is wasted energy! Instead count your Blessings because the time of day it happened and the area, which my Auntie lives in Kukui Plaza so I'm very familiar with the area and hustling thru traffic and pedistrians to go visit her, could have easily been a disaster BUT for whatever reason there were a ton of guardian angels around that day ... and we must not forget Julia who brought that bird down like a champ! In light of your honesty, I pray you don't' suffer too much consequences - NOW will you run for President !!!
on May 10,2013 | 07:48PM
Grimbold wrote:
A Miracle! Someone admitted blame for something. Seems like all other Americans ALLWAYS BLAME SOMETHING OTHER THAN THEMSELVES:
on May 10,2013 | 07:49PM
Uncleart66 wrote:
A man of honor ....the Fed goons and Insurance companies will take him tear him to pieces.
on May 10,2013 | 09:57PM
Aquarius1 wrote:
Brant Swigart has my respect for coming forward. That is a rare trait in today's world.
on May 10,2013 | 10:18PM
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