Poor Weather a Factor in Crash

In its initial report of a helicopter crash on Molokai three weeks ago, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) cited poor weather as a factor in the accident. Attorney and pilot Gary Galiher was flying his private aircraft from Honolulu to his home in east Molokai, along with passenger Keiko Kuroki, on the evening of Nov. 15. The helicopter crashed not far from Galiher’s private helipad, killing both him and Kuroki. Low visibility and heavy rain showers were reported in the area that night.

The NTSB preliminary report, released last Wednesday, states that the Hughes 369D helicopter “was destroyed after impacting mountainous tree-covered terrain about one mile north of Pukoo.” It estimates the time of the crash was 6:41 p.m.

The federal investigative agency arrived on Molokai three days after the accident, visited the site and spoke with witnesses.

The report notes that Galiher’s helipad, located above his home at 750 feet, has four red solar powered perimeter lights, and three red exterior hangar lights.

“…The property caretaker reported that the accident pilot routinely used the southerly facing red exterior hangar lights to find the heliport during dark night conditions,” the report states.

However that night, two neighboring residents interviewed by the NTSB said they saw the helicopter flying low and slow over their property around 6:40 p.m. with the landing light illuminating the ground.

“The witnesses each commented that it looked like the pilot was lost and searching the ground for something before the helicopter turned to the east, and it departed for the shoreline,” the report states.

Another witness said she saw the helicopter make a “controlled descent under dark, windy and very rainy conditions” across the ridgeline near her house before it disappeared behind the ridge. She called the weather conditions that night “almost the worst she had ever seen there.”

Though no flight plan was filed by Galiher for his channel crossing, the NTSB reported that radar data showed the helicopter leaving Honolulu Airport at 5:56 p.m. and its last known position on the radar was recorded about eight miles southwest of the Ho`olehua Airport headed east. The last radio contact with the chopper was at 6:24 p.m. with Galiher received clearance from the Molokai Air Traffic Control tower to fly through the area.

“Witnesses located in near Pukoo reported that weather conditions that were much worse than that being reported at the Molokai Airport, which included gusty wind conditions, heavy rain, and reduced visibility,” the report concludes.

Final accident reports are usually not released for months after an accident.

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