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.”
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.
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.