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N16849 accident description

Hawaii map... Hawaii list
Crash location 21.996666°N, 159.498333°W
Nearest city Kalaheo, HI
21.928611°N, 159.530278°W
5.1 miles away
Tail number N16849
Accident date 24 Sep 2004
Aircraft type Bell 206B
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report

The Safety Board adopted the final report of this accident investigation, including the analysis and probable cause, on February 13, 2007. The Safety Board's full report will be available soon at The Aviation Accident Report number is NTSB/AAR-07/03.


On September 24, 2004, about 1642 Hawaiian standard time, a Bell 206B helicopter, N16849, registered to and operated by Bali Hai Helicopter Tours, Inc., of Hanapepe, Hawaii, impacted mountainous terrain in Kalaheo, Hawaii, on the island of Kauai, 8.4 miles northeast of Port Allen Airport (PAK), Hanapepe. The commercial pilot and the four passengers were killed, and the helicopter was destroyed by impact forces and postimpact fire. The nonstop sightseeing air tour flight was operated under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 and visual flight rules with no flight plan filed. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed near the accident site.

The air tour flight was conducted under Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) 71, "Special Operating Rules for Air Tour Operators in the State of Hawaii," and in accordance with a certificate of waiver or authorization approved for Bali Hai by the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Flight Standards District Office in Honolulu, Hawaii. The minimum altitude for tour flights specified in SFAR 71 is 1,500 feet above ground level (agl) and no closer than 1,500 feet to any person or property, unless otherwise authorized. Bali Hai's certificate of waiver or authorization allowed its pilots to deviate from the minimum altitude requirement and to fly transition segments at 1,000 feet agl, cross ridgelines at 500 feet agl, and cross razorback ridgelines at 200 feet agl.

The flight, which was the pilot's eighth and final tour flight for the day, was scheduled to depart PAK about 1600 and fly clockwise around the island of Kauai for a 45-minute sightseeing tour over a number of site-specific locations, including Waimea Canyon, the Na Pali Coast, Waialeale Crater, and Manawaipuna Falls. Digital, time-stamped still images recovered from a passenger's camera showed that, when the helicopter departed, the weather near PAK appeared sunny with good visibility. Subsequent images taken during the tour showed low clouds and precipitation near some site-specific locations.

A review of air traffic control radar data from the FAA's air route traffic control center and radar approach control facility in Honolulu showed the helicopter's ground track entered the area north of Mount Waialeale about 1635; however, the helicopter's flight altitudes could not be determined. The radar data showed that, about 1641, the helicopter crossed a 2,000-foot ridge that extended east from Kahili Ridge, the main ridgeline 3,000 feet south of Waialeale Crater. Shortly thereafter, the helicopter tracked west toward a pass at the top of Kahili Ridge, then crossed Kahili Ridge. About 1642, the radar track depicted the helicopter on the west side of Kahili Ridge as it turned toward the north. The helicopter's ground track then made a 180-degree clockwise turn toward the south and crossed back to the east side of the Kahili Ridge in a zigzag pattern before it was lost from radar at 1642:46. The wreckage was located on the east side of Kahili Ridge about 200 feet below the top of the ridgeline and southeast of the last radar return.

When the helicopter failed to return to PAK as scheduled, Bali Hai personnel notified the tower controllers at Lihue Airport in Lihue, on the island of Kauai, and the U.S. Coast Guard that the flight was overdue. Bali Hai, other air tour companies, and the Coast Guard conducted visual aerial searches, but clouds obscured the location of the crash site. The Coast Guard located the wreckage about 1420 on September 25, 2004. Recovery of the victims and the wreckage took 10 days because of the terrain and weather conditions; according to recovery personnel, heavy downdraft wind conditions and low cloud cover affected the area.

NTSB Probable Cause

The pilot's decision to continue flight under visual flight rules into an area of turbulent, reduced visibility weather conditions, which resulted in the pilot's spatial disorientation and loss of control of the helicopter. Contributing to this accident was the pilot's inexperience in assessing local weather conditions, inadequate Federal Aviation Administration surveillance of Special Federal Aviation Regulation 71 operating restrictions, and the operator's pilot-scheduling practices that likely had an adverse impact on pilot decision-making and performance.

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