Hawaii tour helicopter wreckage found; fate of 7 aboard uncertain

Steve Gorman and Maria Caspani, Reuters

Posted at Dec 28 2019 10:15 AM

The wreckage of a Hawaii sightseeing helicopter that went missing with 7 people aboard was located on Friday on the island of Kauai, a day after contact with the chopper was lost during its tour of the famed Na Pali Coast, authorities said.

But several hours after debris from the missing aircraft was pinpointed in a remote area of rugged terrain near the northwestern shoreline of the island, the fate of the pilot and six passengers, 2 of them children, remained uncertain.

"We have no actionable information on the status of the passengers. Our ground and air crews continue to search for survivors," Kauai County fire battalion chief Solomon Kanoho told a news conference.

Asked if he believed anyone could have survived the crash, he said, "We still hold out hope."

Local news agency Hawaii News Now, citing unnamed sources, reported that authorities feared that all aboard had perished.

Kanoho said officials were working to notify relatives of 2 sets of passengers who were on the flight - a party of 2 and a party of 4.

While the cause of the crash has yet to be determined, Kanoho said the area where the helicopter went down had experienced "some very bad weather" beforehand. He said the chopper crashed within its prescribed flight route.

Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami said emergency managers were "sending out as much resources as we possibly can" to reach the crash site and search for survivors.

The crash site of the aircraft, flown by Kauai-based tour operator Safari Helicopters, lies in the vicinity of Koke'e State Park in an area called Nu'alolo, a steep-sided valley north of Waimea Canyon State Park, according to a statement posted by the Kauai police department on Facebook.

Waimea Canyon is a popular tourist destination known as the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific," and police said the helicopter was last heard from at about 4:40 p.m. on Thursday, when the pilot radioed that the aircraft was just departing that area.

An initial search was launched a short time later, after Safari alerted authorities that the helicopter was 40 minutes overdue on its flight back to the airfield in Lihue on the island's southeastern end, officials said.

A US Coast Guard cutter vessel and helicopter search crew were immediately dispatched. The search was expanded at daybreak on Friday to include additional air, sea and ground teams from the Coast Guard, US Navy, Kauai Fire Department, police, Civil Air Patrol and other agencies.

The missing aircraft was equipped with an electronic locator beacon, but no signals were received after it disappeared, the Coast Guard said.

According to its website, Safari offers aerial sightseeing excursions to Kauai's major attractions over the Na Pali Coast and Waimea Canyon.

The Na Pali Coast, known for jagged green cliffs jutting from the blue waters of the Pacific and laced with towering waterfalls, is one of the most visited attractions on Kauai.