NTSB: Visibility low when Hawaii sightseeing helicopter crashed

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released a preliminary report into the Airbus AS350 B2 helicopter that crashed during an air tour flight near Lihue, Hawaii, on Dec. 26, 2019, killing the pilot and all six passengers onboard. The helicopter (N985SA) was registered to SAF LTD and operated by Safari Aviation Inc., doing business as Safari Helicopters.

On Dec. 26, 2019, an Airbus AS350 B2 helicopter (N985SA) crashed near Lihue, Hawaii, killing the pilot and six passengers. Tomas Milosch Photo

According to the Jan. 16 report, a witness roughly 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) from the accident site, near the time of the accident, reported weather conditions of about 20 feet (six meters) of visibility in rain and fog. The witness also described what he heard at the time: a hovering helicopter followed by a high-pitch whine. The witness attempted to search for the helicopter, but was unable to locate it due to the adverse weather conditions, the report said.

The closest official weather observation station, Barking Sands Pacific Missile Range Facility (PABK), was about 9 miles (14 km) southwest of the accident site. A special weather observation at 5:18 p.m. local time reported wind from 350 degrees at 10 knots; 2.5 statute miles visibility in rain and mist, overcast clouds at 3,000 feet; temperature 73 F; dew point 72 F; and an altimeter setting of 29.90 inches of mercury.


While the pilot had continued to report his position throughout the air tour flight, there was no indication in the NTSB report that the pilot sent out a distress call.

According to the report, company flight following procedures were in effect for the visual flight rules flight, which departed Lihue Airport at 4:31 p.m.

At roughly 5:30 p.m., 10 minutes after the accident helicopter was due to arrive back at Lihue Airport, Safari Helicopters’ flight follower notified the director of operations that the aircraft was overdue, and an extensive search was initiated.

The aircraft collided with terrain roughly 24 miles (38 km) northwest of Lihue, and was destroyed by impact forces and a post-crash fire, the report said.

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