UPDATE: 4:10 p.m.
LIHUE >> Firefighters recovered more remains and some personal effects today from the site where a Safari Helicopters chopper crashed in Kokee, firefighters said. Kauai police confirmed there are no helicopter crash survivors.
Kauai Fire Department Battalion Chief Solomon Kanoho said firefighters were able to return to the site about 10 a.m. after hazardous weather had cleared, allowing firefighters to search for the remaining person and evidence for Kauai police and the National Transportation Safety Board.
He said firefighters had to leave by 2 p.m. because of the weather.
Kanoho described the crash site as about 1.3 miles inland with the helicopter apparently striking a cliff wall before falling between 50 and 100 yards.
He said Kauai firefighters were using a landing zone at a military site and received assistance from state Department of Land and Natural Resources personnel, as well as Kauai police.
Kanoho expressed his sympathy for the families of those who died and said firefighters’ thoughts and prayers go to the families.
KPD Assistant Chief Bryson Ponce said it could not be confirmed that the remains of the seventh person have been recovered. He said firefighters have been doing additional duties by gathering evidence at the scene for police, including personal effects to help identify the people on board.
He said the investigation is still ongoing and police will meet with the NTSB for the next steps on Sunday.
NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said this morning that a team of four investigators from Alaska and Washington D.C. were expected in Hawaii on Sunday. However, an NTSB investigation has already begun with research and scouring of FAA records. He said accessibility will be an issue in the crash with the area described as “challenging cliffs in a rainforest environment.”
Kauai police today released the preliminary identities of the pilot and two passengers aboard the tour helicopter carrying seven people that crashed off the remote area of Kokee on Thursday.
Kauai police said they believe the pilot is Wailua resident Paul Matero, 69, along with two Wisconsin passengers Amy Gannon, 47, and Jocelyn Gannon, 13, according to preliminary reports.
The Safari Helicopters chopper was on a sightseeing tour that included the Na Pali Coast. The helicopter went missing Thursday.
The company, which suspended operations for the time being, released a written statement to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser around noon today.
“The Safari Helcopter family, along with the broader community, mourn the loss of seven lives that were on Thursday’s sightseeing flight. We mourn with the family members of those who were lost in the tragic accident. Among those lost, is our Chief Pilot, Paul Matero. Paul was a seasoned member of our team with 12 years of experience on Kauai,” said owner Preston Myers in a news release.
The four other passengers are believed to be a family visiting from Switzerland. Their identities have not yet been released.
Autopsies are still pending to positively confirm the identities of all the passengers.
Six sets of remains were recovered among the wreckage Friday afternoon in Kokee near steep, remote terrain between Milolii Ridge Road and Nualolo Trail. One person is still missing.
“There are no indication of survivors,” Kauai Fire Department Chief Solomon Kanoho said during a Friday press conference.
Kauai officials suspended search operations Friday afternoon due to fog and poor visibility.
The Kauai Police Department, Kauai Fire Department and Department of Land and Natural Resources resumed search operations this morning.
Three National Transportation Security Board investigators are expected to arrive today to investigate the crash and provide an update.
Myers thanked county officials and helicopter colleagues who volunteered in search operations.
“Safari is fully cooperating with the NTSB and the FAA to determine the cause of Thursday’s crash,” Myers said in a statement. “Safari is a family owned and operated business, we are proud to have participated in the development of the helicopter tour industry since 1987. Our prayers and love go out to all that are affected by this tragedy.”
The grief-counseling agency Life’s Bridges, the American Red Cross and the Kauai Visitors Bureau are assisting the victims’ families.
“We’re going to continue to ask everybody for their continued thoughts and prayers and sensitivity for all of those who were involved,” said Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami at a Friday press conference.