KEKAHA (HawaiiNewsNow) – NTSB and FAA teams are en route to Kauai as the investigation into a military-contracted helicopter crash at the Pacific Missile Range Facility gets underway.
All four civilian employees onboard the chopper were killed in the crash.
The four, who worked for the Croman Corporation, were identified Wednesday as:
- Daniel Maurice, 64, the chief pilot and FAA-designated pilot examiner
- Patrick Rader, 55, command pilot
- Erika Teves-Valdez, 42, mechanic and aircrew
- and Matthew Haider, 44, mechanic and aircrew
Maurice’s home residence was in Lyle, Washington. The other three victims were Kauai residents.
The helicopter crash happened about 10 a.m. Tuesday morning near the north side of the installation.
Military and Croman Corporation officials said the chopper was providing retrieval support for a routine training operation when the crash happened. The company’s choppers are used to retrieve material used in open ocean testing at the missile range.
Brian Beattie, Croman director of operations, said the Sikorsky S-61N had just retrieved an object from the water and was trying to drop it on the ground when something went wrong.
In addition to federal agencies, officials from Croman, an Oregon-based contractor, are investigating and en route to Kauai. Officials from the helicopter’s maker were also set to respond.
Witnesses said the crash happened in an instant and they speculated the problem was linked to either the load that the helicopter was carrying or the cable that was being used.
“It didn’t drop, that’s the key,” said witness Chris Turner. “Something caused that helicopter to accelerate and go down. It tweaked to the right and then immediately went straight nose-down in an accelerated speed ― straight down with like one second. That was it.”
He added that the weather at the time was calm.
“Absolutely perfect, there were no clouds, winds were less than 5 mph on leeward side,” he said. “It couldn’t have been a nicer day in that area so that’s why it kinda spooks all logic.”
Thick black smoke billowing from the crash site was visible from miles away.
“I look up and it’s a big mushroom cloud of smoke,” said Rebecca Leibbrandt, a crew member onboard Blue Ocean Adventure Tours.
“I do know that there is a landing strip back there where you know they do have some aircraft but I’ve never seen a helicopter land in that area before.
Chloe Ayonon, 13, was at PMRF on Tuesday morning for a school field trip. She said they were touring the fire station on base and saw a helicopter flying around.
Then, she said, they heard a loud bang.
“I thought it was just like maybe a fire or something. I didn’t think that something actually like, I didn’t think it was that serious,” she said.
“Our tour guides had no clue. Like, we didn’t know if it’s like a vehicle that crashed or something. And then they said that it was an aircraft.”
Online flight logs show the chopper left Barking Sands at the Kauai facility at 9:24 a.m. and was in the air for 55 minutes when it got into trouble, flying a total of 83 miles.
Tom Clements, public information officer for the facility, said PMRF is a close-knit community and the losses hit close to home. “It is felt by a lot of people here. It’s not anonymous,” he said.
The military and helicopter company have not released the names of those who died.
The Pacific Missile Range Facility is described as the world’s largest “instrumented multi-environmental range capable of supported surface, subsurface, air and space operations simultaneously.”
Some 900 people work at the Navy facility, only about 100 of whom are active-duty sailors.
In a statement, Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami offered his condolences to the victims’ families.
“I know there are no words that can express the extent of what you are going through or provide the solace that you need, but please know that our entire community is here for you,” he said.
“We offer our partners at PMRF any resources they may need, and we offer the families involved our deepest condolences during this difficult time.”
The last military helicopter crash in Hawaii happened in 2017, when a Black Hawk helicopter went down off Oahu’s North Shore during a routine training mission. Five soldiers were killed.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.
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