A 57-year-old tour helicopter pilot suffered an undisclosed medical condition at the time of Monday afternoon’s accident at the Kaneohe Bay sandbar, the tour company said.
“We have confirmed that the pilot suffered a medical condition in flight,” said Nicole Vandelaar, owner and chief pilot of Novictor Helicopters.
The male pilot and two passengers, who are visitors to Hawaii, were taken to The Queen’s Medical Center in serious condition but have been upgraded to stable condition.
Vandelaar said the pilot’s injuries, as well as the passengers’ injuries, are non- life-threatening. “I’m just grateful that everybody is OK.”
The pilot sustained injuries to his back, head and chest. As for the two passengers, a 35-year-old woman sustained injuries to her chest, back and left leg, and a 31-year-old man sustained injuries to his head, chest, back and right arm.
Dustin Malama, Honolulu Emergency Services Department spokesman, said the pilot and passengers also suffered multiple lacerations to their bodies.
Allen Kenitzer, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman, said the agency and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the accident, which happened at about 5:12 p.m. Monday.
The wreckage of the Robinson R44 was plucked from waist-deep water and airlifted by a Bell UH-1 (Huey) helicopter from Maui shortly before noon Tuesday, a Department of Land and Natural Resources news release said.
It was found on the open-ocean side of the Ahu o Laka sandbar, a popular spot for tour boats.
Upon arrival Tuesday morning the salvage team found one of the chopper’s skids and its tail rotor protruding from the water. A large part of the engine covering and a door broke off from the fuselage.
The helicopter ended up on its side, possibly from wind and waves, said DLNR spokesman Dan Dennison.
A rigger from Pacific Helicopters, assisted by DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) officers, secured straps and ropes around the chopper and brought it to the Heeia Kea Small Boat Harbor.
DOCARE officers reported the crash apparently did no damage to coral reefs; they did not detect fuel leakage in the water, but did smell fuel near the wreckage.
Fuel remaining in the tank was drained, DLNR said.
Fire personnel contained any fuel that leaked on the lot.
A Department of Health expert and Coast Guard representatives were also on scene.
Crews from the Honolulu Fire Department, Coast Guard, Federal Fire Department and Waterfront Operations of Marine Corps Base Hawaii responded to the downed helicopter.
HFD spokesman Capt. Scot Seguirant said good Samaritans, including fishermen and two kayakers, assisted the pilot and two passengers, who were conscious and alert.
HFD coordinated with federal firefighters and the Marines to transport the three people to Heeia Kea Small Boat Harbor where Emergency Medical Services personnel were waiting.