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Few Links Found in Hawaii Helicopter Crashes
Mark Niesse

HONOLULU – Despite two recent tour helicopter crashes on the island of Kauai, there's little reason to believe the accidents have much in common besides their location, federal officials said.

Another helicopter crash in Haena on Sunday killed one passenger, just four days after four people died in a separate accident several miles away in Princeville.

“Both investigations are in their early stages, but there is no indication the accidents are related in any way,” said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor.

Because there doesn't appear to be a connection between the crashes, it would be premature to ground flights or take other actions, Gregor said.

Weather conditions were sunny and clear when both helicopters went down.

Calm winds in Lihue steadily blew eastward at 10 miles-per-hour on Sunday, much less than rough 30 miles-per-hour tradewinds sometimes seen on the island, said Norman Hui, a forecaster for the National Weather Service.

“The wind actually wasn't that strong,” Hui said. “It's close to normal.”

Details on the causes of the accidents remain unclear.

On Sunday, the pilot heard a loud bang and then lost control of the aircraft while trying to land.

In Thursday's crash, the pilot had radioed that he was having problems with the hydraulics.

The helicopters were different models and owned by different companies – Smoky Mountain Helicopters Inc. and Heli-USA, Gregor said.

Five tour helicopters have crashed on Kauai in less than four years, killing a total of 18 people.

Poor maintenance and distractions from tour groups can make helicopter sightseeing excursions dangerous, said Gary Robb, a Kansas City, Mo., attorney who specializes in representing helicopter crash victims.

“In my experience, these tour helicopters don't get the maintenance they need,” he said. “If you combine ... the weather, the lack of maintenance and the fact that the operator has to be a tour guide and a navigator, you can see why there are a disproportionate amount of crashes in Hawaii.”

The National Transportation Safety Board last month recommended to the FAA that it increase surveillance of air tour operators, their maintenance policies and flight scheduling procedures.

The exact causes of the crashes won't be known until the NTSB completes its investigation, which could take several months. But an initial report may be released in as little as two weeks.

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