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Hawaii Crash Update: Tour Copter Hit Ridge, Then Fell

Brice Banning/NTSB
The crash site on Kauai of an Airbus AS350 helicopter.

A Hawaii tour helicopter that crashed and killed all seven people on board hit a ridge at an altitude of 2,900 feet (883 meters) then fell about 100 feet (30 meters), the National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday as investigators planned how to recover the wreckage from the remote and rugged crash site.

“A post-crash fire consumed much of the aircraft," the NTSB said in an investigative update. “In the coming days the wreckage will be moved to a secure location where investigators will conduct a more thorough examination of the recovered evidence. Details and timing are still being worked out.”

The helicopter’s commercial pilot and six passengers were killed in Thursday's crash. It was set to tour the Na Pali Coast, the picturesque and remote northern shoreline of Kauai that was featured in the film “Jurassic Park."

The pilot, Paul Matero, did not have an instrument rating, which allows pilots to fly in bad weather, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

“Most of the pilots that fly tour helicopters in Hawaii either don’t have an instrument rating or their instrument rating isn’t current,"said Ladd Sanger, a Texas-based aviation attorney and helicopter pilot who has handled Hawaii crash cases. “When you have dynamic weather conditions, where you have clouds and winds, it might be more prudent not to fly in those conditions.”

National Weather Service meteorologists said the agency was not releasing information on Thursday’s weather conditions on Kauai. Weather service reports from Thursday said late in the afternoon high pressure far northwest of the state would cause winds across Kauai to shift out of the northwest.

A team of investigators who arrived on Kauai will be looking at weather conditions, NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said.

Investigator-In-Charge Brice Banning, from Alaska, flew over the crash site Monday to evaluate conditions and photograph the wreckage path, the NTSB update said.

The helicopter company, identified as Safari Helicopters, contacted the Coast Guard on Thursday evening after the tour did not return to the airport as scheduled. A search began but steep terrain, low visibility, choppy seas and rain complicated the search.

Company representatives didn't immediately return phone and email messages Tuesday.

The pilot's commercial pilot certificate would have had limitations on flying at night and more than 50 nautical miles.

Sanger said those limitations wouldn't have been issues in the crash.

The flight departed Lihue Airport at 4:31 p.m., according to the NTSB. and crashed about 4:57 p.m.

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