On the night of December 26, 2019, a Safari Helicopters ASTAR B2 helicopter carrying one pilot and six passengers went missing off the coast of Kauai. The wreckage was found on the morning of the 27th. Victims of the crash continued to be recovered.
Unfortunately, air tour operations in Hawaii have a checkered history. In the early 1990’s the air-tour industry in Hawaii was booming. Both helicopter and airplane pilots flew without concern for minimum safe altitudes. Between 1991 and 1994 there were five fatal accidents (with 24 deaths) and 14 non-fatal accidents. On July 14, 2012, two more helicopters crashed (one accident was fatal, and one was not). On September 22, 1994, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) enacted emergency regulations relating to commercial air tours in Hawaii.
The emergency regulations were subsequently made permanent in the Federal Regulations. 14 C.F.R. Appendix A to Part 136 is titled “Special Operating Rules for Air Tour Operators in the State of Hawaii.” The regulations require that any single engine helicopter operated beyond the shore of any Hawaiian Island be equipped with floats. The regulations also require that approved flotation gear be accessible to each occupant. The ASTAR B2 (also called a Eurocopter AS350) has a single engine, and is required to follow these regulations.
Under the regulations each operator, such as Safari, is also required to have a “Helicopter Performance Plan” and each passenger must be briefed on water ditching procedures, use of required flotation equipment, and emergency egress from the aircraft in the event of a water landing.
As a FAA certified helicopter pilot, I have repeatedly advocated for additional safety equipment, better passenger preflight briefings and enhanced locating information aboard operations over water. Specifically, operators of aircraft over water should have a PLB (personal locator beacon) on the life vest of each occupant, and the aircraft should have a GPS device linked to a satellite that leaves a ”breadcrumb” trail such that a missing aircraft’s last location can easily be determined.
Jimmy Anderson is an Attorney with Krutch Lindell Bingham Jones, representing victims of aviation accidents and other aviation related incidents.