Cause of fatal helicopter crash in Puko’o still undetermined

| May 17, 2013 | 6 Comments

The site where the Blue Hawaiian helicopter crashed on a ridge in November 2011. Below can be seen the Keawanui Shrimp Farm and the Keawanui fishpond.

The site where the Blue Hawaiian helicopter crashed on a ridge in November 2011. Below can be seen the Keawanui Shrimp Farm and the Keawanui fishpond.


A year-and-a-half after a helicopter crash killed the pilot and four passengers in the Puko’o area of East Molokai, investigators are still attempting to determine the cause of the accident.

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board recently released a report on the accident that included statements from witnesses. The Nov. 10, 2011 accident involved a Blue Hawaiian helicopter that crashed in cloudy and rainy conditions a half hour after leaving Kahului Airport at 11:44 a.m.

The report confirms that Walter Paleka was the closest witness. He was about one-third of a mile south of the accident site when he heard a “woop woop” noise related to the main rotor blade, according to the report. Paleka said parts and pieces were falling off the Eurocopter EC130 B4 when he heard a pop as the main rotor “stopped and popped” off the helicopter.

Paleka said he observed a fire in the cabin area but no explosion. When the helicopter was 10 feet about the ground, it rolled away from Paleka, exposing its belly before striking the ground, said the report. One report said there was no rain at the time of the accident, although it had been raining earlier and there were clouds in the valley. Another witness report said it was raining at the time of the crash.

The wreckage debris path was approximately 1,330 feet long, extending west-northwest from the main wreckage, the report said.

Another witness, Molokai resident Floyd Kapuni, said there was “big rain” in the area, and he couldn’t see the mountains. But then his attention was drawn to the helicopter when he heard a “weird tat, tat, tat noise.”

A tag from the Eurocopter EC130 B4 that crashed near Kilohana Elementary School.

A tag from the Eurocopter EC130 B4 that crashed near Kilohana Elementary School.


He saw that the back of the helicopter’s engine was cherry red. It looked like the back of a missile, he said.

He saw the “red flash” descend straight down fast, followed by an explosion, the report said.

The pilot, Nathan Cline, had passed a federal check ride test the day before the fatal accident, his wife Violeta had told investigators. “He was so excited because he did really, really well,” she said.

A slipper and other helicopter fragments found at the site.

A slipper and other helicopter fragments found at the site.


Also killed that day were honeymooners and Pittsburgh residents Michael Todd Abel, 25, and Nicole Belivacqua-Abel, 28, who both worked as engineers at Westinghouse Electric Co.; and Toronto couple Stuart Robertson, 50, and Eva Birgitta Wannersjo, 47.

Since he had started working for Blue Hawaiian in July of 2011, Cline had accumulated 306 flight hours in the EC130 B4 helicopter.

An official with the NTSB in Washington, D.C., told The Maui News on Thursday that the investigation into the cause of the crash was ongoing.

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  1. steve says:

    while this is truly a sad story, readers should know that david’s (the molokai news’ author) video taken soon after the crash was used worldwide.

    i heard about the crash while in the midwest at about 5p eastern time, and by 10p eastern a toronto tv station ran the video as its anchor read the still sketchy details.

    nice work david!

  2. kalaniua ritte says:

    it was a wierd day.we were working on keawanui fishpond.it would rain be cloudy one minute,then clear up the next.lots of rainbows.we just went into our hale to eat lunch when we heard a loud screeching noise like metal grinding.we got out of the hale and saw a red fire ball on the hill.very sad day.

  3. RT says:

    David – the photo of the human bone fragment is too morbid. And in my opinion, disrespectful to the victims and their families. I would feel terrible if I had a family member on this helicopter and then came across your story with a photo of (possibly) one of thier bones.

    By posting that image, you make it the last visual memory of the victims.

    I recommend/request you remove it, out of respect for the victims and their family members. Please consider.

    Thanks & Aloha

    PS the eye glass frame borders on being too personal too. I’m sure some family member can identify those glasses as the glasses ‘their’ family member wore.

    • molokainews says:

      OK RT, I’ll remove those photos. I was on the fence about them and I was going to wait and see if I received any complaints. By the way, what is your name, RT?

  4. Aloueta says:

    Im grateful that I found this article after you removed the pictures. As a longtime friend of Nicole Bevilacqua-Abel it wouldve broken my heart even more. In the future, always err on the side of caution. You never know when friends and family could see it. Very traumatizing.

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