A tour helicopter crashed in the middle of the Coconut Grove neighborhood in Kailua this morning, killing all three people aboard.
“It sounded like a missile hit a plane,” said Sommer Birkett, who had a clear view from her second-floor living room in an alley off Oneawa Street, where the aircraft went down. “I heard this loud sshhhh-boom! I was like, what the hell is that? I looked out the window and I saw the helicopter nosedive onto Oneawa Street.”
“There were no flames or anything when it fell — that happened after it plummeted,” Birkett said. “Something happened with the helicopter, something went wrong with it where it stopped working.”
The aircraft hit the ground on Oneawa Street near Nowela Place. The Police Department received multiple calls of a downed helicopter at 9:12 a.m., according to Honolulu Police Lt. Wayne Wong.
“It fell directly on the roadway,” Wong said. “It may have clipped some power lines in the area.”
All three fatalities were aboard the helicopter and no other injuries were reported, according to Shayne Enright, spokeswoman for the Honolulu Department of Emergency Services.
Enright said EMS personnel were responding to on another call in the area when they heard a horrific bang.
“They turned around and saw the helicopter on fire,” said Enright. “When they got there, neighbors were doing a heroic job trying to put out the fire and also trying to get the patients away from the burning aircraft. EMS assisted, got two of the patients from the burning aircraft but at that time the two were deceased.”
Enright also said a woman was driving a vehicle on the road when her car was struck by a piece of debris. “However, thankfully, she was OK, along with a number of people that were in the area, all uninjured.”
Honolulu Fire Department, Capt. Scot Seguirant said the first HFD unit arrived at 9:18 a.m. to find a small fire at the crash site. Firefighters took over from neighbors and had the fire was under control at 9:23 and extinguished at 9:40 a.m.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser has confirmed that the helicopter was operated by Novictor Helicopters and its tail number was N808NV.
A woman who answered the phone at Novictor this morning declined comment, saying “at this time we cannot release any information.”
The aircraft was a four-seat Robinson R44 helicopter, according to Ian Gregor, public affairs manager for the Federal Aviation Administration’s Pacific Division.
Two FAA inspectors were en route to the crash site, Gregor said. The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate, with NTSB the lead agency.
Rep. Cynthia Thielen, who represents the area, said tour helicopters should not have been flying in the neighborhood.
“My heart goes out to the victims of this horrific helicopter crash in Kailua,” she said in a statement. “This happened in our residential area, where the only helicopters flying should be emergency, military and police-related — not tourism-related or commercial helicopters that kill and endanger occupants and people on the ground.”
She called for grounding all tour helicopters “until the authorities have assessed this situation.”
The helicopter that crashed is owned by United Helicopter Leasing, LLC, which has the same address as Novictor Helicopters on Kapalulu Place, according to the FAA registry. It was manufactured in 2000.
Police shut Oneawa Street and city officials advised motorists to avoid the area. Wong said bystanders quickly helped out and kept traffic from the area. Oneawa is likely to be closed for hours.
“Oneawa is a very busy street, especially during the morning hours,” Wong said. “People going to work, people going to school. It could have impacted a bigger part of the community. So we’re just fortunate that it (was) … isolated in that one area.”
A car parked in a nearby driveway had front-end damage from a piece of the helicopter, according to witnesses.
Honolulu police tweeted,”Federal and local authorities are asking area residents to look out for possible debris from today’s helicopter crash. If you see an item, do not pick it up. Call 911 to have an officer respond.”
Honolulu Star-Advertiser reporters Susan Essoyan, Rosemarie Bernardo and Nina Wu contributed to this report.