HONOLULU (AP) — Federal investigators blamed a fatal 2019 helicopter crash in Hawaii on the pilot’s decision to continue flying in deteriorating weather, and in a report Tuesday, they blamed oversight regulators lax air tours which are popular among tourists to the islands.
The National Transportation Safety Board said the Federal Aviation Administration delayed installing aviation weather cameras that could have alerted the pilot to foggy conditions in a mountainous area on the island of Kauai. The board also said the FAA had not done enough to ensure Hawaii tour pilots were trained in bad weather management.
Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy said some would be quick to blame the pilot for the crash, which killed all seven on board, but she was more troubled by the FAA’s role .
“The fact is that this tragedy should never have happened. It was 100% preventable,” Homendy said. “There was minimal FAA oversight of the safety of flight operations in Hawaii. The FAA should lead on safety, without ceding responsibility to the industry it is responsible for regulating.
Kauai, with its steep seaside cliffs and mountainous terrain, often experiences fast-moving weather systems that can change conditions quickly, especially during the winter months.
The tourist helicopter operated by Safari Aviation was carrying the pilot and six passengers – three adults and three children, the youngest was 10 – when it crashed in turbulent weather near the famous Na Pali coast. Witnesses and other pilots reported fog, rain and low visibility at the time of the crash, and some pilots had turned back.
The pilot, Paul Matero, 69, had his license revoked in 2010 after testing positive for marijuana, but his certificate was reinstated in 2012. A toxicology report after the crash found no drugs in the Matero system. Matero was not authorized to fly solely on 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 crash area – and it plans to install 21 more on six islands in Hawaii. here at the end of next year. The FAA has operated weather cameras in Alaska for over 20 years.
The NTSB said it found no mechanical issues with the helicopter, but it said Safari Aviation’s lack of a formal process to identify safety risks contributed to the accident.
The FAA said it has begun drafting regulations to require tour operators and charterers to adopt safety management systems to identify and minimize risk – a longstanding NTSB recommendation.
“Today, air travel operators can apply for the FAA’s voluntary Safety Management System program, and we are developing rules to make these systems a requirement,” the FAA said in a statement. sent by email.
The safety board voted 4-0 to adopt a staff-written outline of the probable cause of the crash, along with 10 safety recommendations, eight of which were directed to the FAA.
The board also renewed nine other previous recommendations to the FAA, including requiring tour helicopters to be equipped with so-called black boxes that would aid post-crash investigators.
Currently, the FAA requires the devices on air ambulance helicopters, and manufacturers include them on some models. The agency said it encourages air tour operators to equip their planes with flight data recorders and is considering requiring such devices.
Koenig reported from Dallas.
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