Brant Swigart says he did not notice a cable error during the craft's last overhaul
POSTED: 1:42 a.m. HST, May 11, 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 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."