NTSB Issues Report on Hawaii Helicopter Crash

November 21, 2012

The National Transportation Safety Board has issued its report on a 2009 helicopter crash on Maui in which a commercial pilot and a federal inspector were seriously injured.

The crash report does not draw any conclusions about what caused the crash in Hana, Hawaii. However, it does summarize what the Honolulu Star-Advertiser describes as a routine safety exercise that turned into a life-threatening emergency.

A federal magistrate in May ruled that the government was not at fault for the crash of the Aerospatiale AS-350B helicopter owned and operated by Sunshine Helicopters. The company president has said the pilot and the Federal Aviation Administration inspector caused the crash by improperly initiating a simulated engine failure during a competency check flight.

The report released last week summarizes findings from the board’s comprehensive investigation of the parties involved, the helicopter, weather, wreckage information and subsequent tests and research.

The report includes accounts from FAA inspector Donald Andera and pilot Stephen Shull who were aboard the aborted round-trip flight from Kahului Airport to Hana on Dec. 16. Shull is an experienced commercial pilot with 4,458 hours of flight time in rotorcraft at the time of the crash.

According to the report, the check flight began just before 1 p.m.

About a mile south of Hana, Andera indicated the start of the simulated engine failure and, according to the report, “brought the throttle out of the full open flight run position and just aft enough back toward flight idle to keep it from springing back into the gate.”

Andera told the NTSB that “he and the pilot had briefed this prior to the flight and that they were to recover with power before getting too low.”

However, it soon became apparent that the engine was no longer working.

As the report said, “the pilot did try to restart, but it was quickly evident that a restart was not an option due to the rapidly approaching ground.”

Aware that the helicopter would not be able to make it to Hana, the pilot headed toward a grassy landing spot. The copter made a hard landing on the uneven, sloping terrain, injuring both Shull and Andera and causing significant damage to the aircraft.

Shull told NTSB investigators he was unaware that Andera had moved the throttle but was nonetheless prepared to execute the appropriate measures for a simulated engine failure once Andera told him that the exercise had started.

Shull also said, “You have to be gentle and slow with (the throttle) as you retard the lever. If you pull it back too far or fast, it will shut off the fuel.”

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