Helicopter crash in Hawaii that killed 7 was 100% preventable

Federal investigators blamed a fatal helicopter crash in Hawaii in 2019 for the pilot’s decision to continue flying into the deteriorating weather, and in a Tuesday report they accused regulators of lax oversight of air travel popular with tourists on the islands .

The National Transportation Safety Board said the Federal Aviation Administration delayed installing in-flight weather cameras that may have alerted pilots to fog-shrouded conditions in a mountainous region on the island of Kauai. The board also said the FAA has not done enough to ensure tour pilots in Hawaii are trained to deal with inclement weather.

Safety Committee Chair Jennifer Homendy said some would be quick to blame the pilot for the crash, which killed all seven people on board, but she was more concerned about the FAA’s role.


“The fact is, this tragedy should never have happened. It was 100% preventable,” Homendy said. “There was minimal oversight by the FAA over the safety of air travel operations in Hawaii. The FAA should be a safety leader and not delegate its responsibilities to the industry it is tasked with regulating.”

Kauai, with its steep oceanfront cliffs and mountainous terrain, often experiences fast-paced weather systems that can change conditions quickly, especially during the winter months.

The touring helicopter, operated by Safari Aviation, was carrying the pilot and six passengers – three adults and three children, the youngest of whom was 10 – when it crashed near the famous Na Pali coast in turbulent weather. Witnesses and other pilots reported fog, rain, and poor visibility at the time of the crash, and some pilots had turned around.

The pilot, 69-year-old Paul Matero, had his license revoked in 2010 after testing positive for marijuana, but his certificate was restored in 2012. A toxicology report after the crash found no drugs in Matero’s system. Matero was not authorized to fly solely with instruments.


The FAA said it has installed weather cameras at five locations in Hawaii, including two on the island of Kauai — though none in the area of ​​the crash — and plans to install 21 more on six islands by the end of next year. The FAA has operated weather cameras in Alaska for more than 20 years.

The NTSB said it found no mechanical problems with the helicopter, but it said the lack of a formal safety hazard identification process at Safari Aviation contributed to the accident.

The FAA said it has begun writing regulations requiring tour and charter operators to implement safety management systems to identify and mitigate risks — a longstanding NTSB recommendation.

“Air tour operators can apply today for the FAA’s voluntary Safety Management Systems program, and we are in the process of issuing regulations to make these systems a requirement,” the FAA said in an emailed statement.

The safety panel voted 4 to 0 to adopt a staff-authored summary of the probable cause of the crash, along with 10 safety recommendations, eight of which were addressed to the FAA.


The board also renewed nine other previous recommendations to the FAA, including requiring tour helicopters to be retrofitted with so-called black boxes that would help investigators after crashes.

Currently, the FAA requires the devices in ambulance helicopters, and manufacturers are incorporating them into some models. The agency said it encourages air travel operators to fit flight data recorders on their planes and is considering making the devices mandatory.


Koenig reported from Dallas.

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Justin Scacco

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