Maui News

Engine Problem Noted in 2009 Hana Helicopter Crash

November 20, 2012, 10:14 AM HST
* Updated November 20, 10:18 AM
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Hana aerial file photo by Wendy Osher.

By Wendy Osher

Investigators have determined that engine problems had occurred prior to a helicopter crash reported nearly three years ago in Hana, Maui.

On December 16, 2009, at about 1:29 p.m., a helicopter operated by Sunshine Helicopters, Inc., out of Kahului, Maui, experienced a total loss of engine power and made a forced, uncontrolled landing about 1.3 miles southeast of the Hana Airport, according to accident data released by the National Transportation Safety Board.

According to the report, the helicopter impacted hard and uneven, down-sloping, terrain and was substantially damaged in the incident.  The 42-year-old commercial certificated pilot-in-command and the 51-year-old FAA inspector check pilot, were both seriously injured in the crash.

The flight  originated from Kahului Airport on the same day at around 12:57 p.m. and was being administered as part of a pilot competency certification test.

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As part of the check ride, a simulated loss of engine power was to be conducted as a routine procedure used in evaluating the competency of the pilot.  The drill called for the pilot to conduct a simulated engine power loss with a auto-rotation forced landing to 100 feet above ground level, before a planned power recovery prior to touchdown.

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According to the accident report, the maneuver was initiated about 1 mile south of the Hana Airport.  When the pilot tried to restart the engine, the report states that “it was quickly evident that a restart was not an option due to the rapidly approaching ground.”

The report states that the pilot and FAA check pilot were both looking for a suitable field to land, but “there were not a lot to choose from.”  The FAA inspector check pilot told investigators that the pilot did a “good job” trying to get to the field.

The pilot told investigators that he became aware that the simulated forced landing had turned into a real forced landing “when the helicopter yawed” and the generator warning light illuminated.

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The report states that a comprehensive review of the historical flight sheets found an entry nine months earlier, on March 14, 2009, noting a pilot discrepancy write-up of an un-commanded flame-out of the engine. As part of the maintenance corrective action, inspections were made.  The engine then started normal power and was approved for service.  The report states that the flame out in the March incident was possibly due to water accumulated at bottom of inlet housing after heavy rain.

In addition to the March 14, 2009 incident, the investigation also found that the engine had inadvertently shut down three other times prior to the December 16, 2009 incident.

The accident report states that the three other events were disclosed in sworn testimony by company pilots. All four of the prior events occurred when the helicopter was on the ground, and three of them occurred when pilots were bringing the FCL (throttle) back to slow the engine speed to ground idle during the post flight engine cool down period.

With the exception of the March 14th event, none of the shutdowns were documented in the company system, according to the December accident report.

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