Chopper Crash Claims Two Lives

There were no survivors in a Nov. 15 helicopter crash on Molokai’s east end. Attorney and Molokai homeowner Gary Galiher was flying the aircraft, along with passenger and Oahu realtor Keiko Kuroki, last Tuesday evening from Honolulu to his private helipad on Molokai. They never landed as expected, and they were reported missing by Galiher’s colleague early Wednesday morning, which initiated a Coast Guard and Fire Department search.

The wreckage of the the black Hughes 369D helicopter was found Wednesday afternoon, at about 1400 feet in a wooded area, according to Edward Taomoto of the Maui Fire Department. It was less than a mile mauka of Galiher’s hillside home just east of Puko`o Fire Station.

“Gary Galiher was a very experienced pilot, who flew to Molokai round-trip almost every week for over 20 years,” said John Corboy, a fellow Molokai helicopter pilot, via email. Corboy also has a private helipad at his home in Kawela, and similarly flies the route between Oahu and Molokai frequently.

Residents of the area reported extremely windy and rainy conditions in the area Tuesday night. Corboy said he believes those conditions, along with obscured vision from the clouds and few ground lights for orientation, may have contributed to the accident.

“This terrifying mix, buffeted by gusty winds and surrounded by mountains, is a recipe for tragedy,” he said. “I have been in similar situations, and believe there are few things more terrifying.”

An east end resident living on the next ridge over from Galiher’s residence, said she thinks she may have witnessed the fateful crash Tuesday night.

“I heard the helicopter and wondered it if was him,” Joanne Pryor wrote to The Molokai Dispatch, via social media.  “It was raining very hard, you could see his light focused on the pad above [by Galiher’s house].  I was thinking someone was going to have to drive up the slippery road [to check], when there was a giant orange ball. It lasted for a quite a while.”

Pryor said though she couldn’t hear anything, she described seeing a large explosion. She couldn’t recall the exact time, but believes it was around 7 p.m. She added she had just seen Galiher land there a few evenings before that.

Galiher, 70, was the founder and senior partner of Galiher DeRobertis Waxman, specializing in personal injury cases, according to his firm’s website. He was a prominent and respected attorney, particularly known for mesothelioma and asbestos-related cases.

According to Maui County property tax information, Galiher purchased his Honomuni property in the late 1980s and built a home there shortly afterward. He owned several other properties on the island, including business fronts in Kaunakakai.

Friends, colleagues and Molokai residents have shared kind words about Galiher.

Corboy described him as “a very good guy, generous with his philanthropy on Molokai and elsewhere.”

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Bureau are investigating the accident.

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