Helicopter Sightseeing Tours in Hawaii not safe by Congressman Ed Case

How safe is it to get on a helicopter tour or sightseeing plane in Hawaii?  When U.S. Congressman Ed Case is questioning safety for visitors to his own State Hawaii, it can become a statement, that has wide consequences not only for the niche he attacks but for the travel and tourism industry for  Hawaii altogether. Tourism is everyone’s business in Hawaii and essential to the economy.

Tour helicopters and small aircraft operations are not safe, and innocent lives are paying the price, said Case in a statement, while the FAA insisted such operations are safe. Hawaii saw 4 fatal crashes of helicopter tours in the last 15 years.

When a U.S. Congressman attacks his own States vital travel and tourism industry is could become big news. US Representative Ed Case found the safety threat for visitors to go on helicopter tours dire. According to Case, such an adventure could turn into tragedy.

In 2012 Ed Case, the same Representative when running for Senator saw the future of tourism in niche markets and sited his brothers’ farm on the Island of Hawaii promoting agritourism as a good example. He took the role of an advocate to promote niche markets in the State. He wanted to give medium and smaller companies a chance to prosper from the mighty tourism Dollar.

Helicopter tours are such markets.  Read the interview with Ed Case on eTurboNews: “A Senator’s view of the Aloha State, the United States of America and Tourism”

Obviously an elected official from Hawaii would not want to harm the vital travel and tourism industry of his state. His quick public statement may have been a lack of knowing all the facts, research, and human emotions. eTN contacted U.S. Congressman Ed Case but there was no response.

Ed Case was fast in citing fatal accidents over the years, blaming the Federal Aviation Administration for not taking National Transportation Safety Board safety improvement efforts seriously and the travel and tourism industry for not regulating itself.

“Tour helicopter and small aircraft operations are not safe, and innocent lives are paying the price,” said Case, a Democrat. “In our Hawaii alone, the industry, while stridently arguing that it is safe and sensitive to neighborhoods, has in fact ignored any sensible safety improvements, instead dramatically increasing in recent years its volume of flights, at all times of day and night, in seemingly all-weather over more residential neighborhoods and to more risky and remote locations, at lower altitudes, while completely failing to address ground safety and community disruption concerns.”

The FAA, however, said it conducts random and regular surveillance on all Hawaii air tour operators and ensures companies address any issues, agency spokesman Ian Gregor said in an email. He said the FAA does not have concerns about the industry statewide.

Perhaps the Congressman overlooked that one reason for the high accident rate is the sheer numbers: It is estimated that 1 in 10 visitors to the state takes a helicopter sightseeing tour during their visit, amounting to about 120,000 passengers yearly.”

What to compare this to? The Grand Canyon is a totally different environment and, has fewer helicopter passengers per total visitors annually.

According to NTSB there are only 4 fatal accidents of sightseeing helicopters in Hawaii. This is not including sailing or skydiving tours. Just in June this year 11 people including visitors died in a deadly crash on Oahu’s North Shore Dillingham airport crash.

The four tour helicopter crashes recorded over the last 15 years:

April 29, 2019: A Robinson R44 tour helicopter operated by Novictor Helicopters crashed in a neighborhood in Kailua killing passengers Jan Burgess, 76, of Australia; Ryan McAuliffe, 28, of Chicago; and pilot Joseph Berridge, 28.

Feb. 18, 2016: A tour helicopter operated by Genesis Helicopters crashed into the water at Pearl Harbor, killing 16-year-old Riley Dobson of Canada.

March. 8, 2007: An A-Star 350BA helicopter operated by Heli USA Airways Inc. crashed on the runway of Princeville Airport on Kauai, killing John O’Donnell of Rockaway, N.Y.; Teri McCarty of Cabot, Ark.; Cornelius Scholtz of Santa Maria, Calif.; and pilot Joe Sulak.

Sept. 23, 2005: Six people aboard an Aerospatiale AS 350 helicopter operated by Heli USA Airways Inc. encountered a severe weather system and crashed into the ocean off of Kailiu Point in Haena, Kauai. Three people drowned, and pilot Glen Lampton and two other passengers survived.

In the meantime Safari Helicopter issued this statement today: 

“The Safari Helicopter family, along with the broader community, mourn the loss of seven lives that were on Thursday’s sightseeing flight. We mourn with the family members of those who were lost in the tragic accident. Among those lost, is our Chief Pilot, Paul Matero. Paul was a seasoned member of our team with 12 years of experience on Kauai,” said owner Preston Myers in a news release.

There was no update or mentioning on the companies news website about the deadly crash. The site encourages visitors to see the islands from a different perspective.

According to the Milwaukee Journal, a businesswoman and her daughter from Madison were among those killed in a helicopter crash Thursday in Hawaii.

Authorities identified two of the victims as Amy Gannon, 47, and Jocelyn Gannon, 13, of Madison.

Amy Gannon is the co-founder of Doyenne, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting women entrepreneurs. She also hosted a podcast called Lady Business in which she interviewed women entrepreneurs, according to her LinkedIn page. Her daughter, Joselyn, was an 8th-grader at Hamilton Middle School in Madison.