National Transportation Safety Board officials have arrived on Oahu to investigate the cause of Monday’s fiery helicopter crash in Kailua, which left three people dead.

As Timothy Hurley reports in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, it’s the state’s second fatal helicopter crash in a row involving a Robinson R44 model, and five of the past 10 helicopter incidents have involved an R44.

As it turns out, the Los Angeles Times just published this past November an investigation into the R44’s safety record, raising questions about the model’s performance and design. Money quote:

Still, safety issues have dogged the Torrance manufacturer over its 45-year history, The Times found, and both the company and the FAA have been slow to address design features and operating characteristics that have caused or contributed to accidents.

Specifically, the R44 was found to have the highest rate of fatal accidents per 100,000 flight hours — 1.6 — of any other helicopter model between 2006 and 2016, the Times found. The investigation notes that “scores of R44 pilots and passengers have been killed in preventable post-crash fires” related to the model’s prior fuel tank design.

Helicopter debris along Oneawa Street in Kailua after helicopter crashed in a residential neighborhood.
Helicopter debris was strewn along Oneawa Street in Kailua on Monday after an R44 helicopter crashed in a residential area. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

It’s not clear yet what caused Monday’s crash, but footage showed the helicopter wreckage consumed by flames after it hit Oneawa Street.

Still, pilot experience also needs to be taken into account when assessing the R44’s safety record, writes John Zimmerman at the personal air travel website Air Facts. Many R44s are typically flown by less-experienced pilots, according to Zimmerman.

“Private operators have a much worse record than other pilots,” Zimmerman writes. “R44s in particular are often flown by low time pilots – in fact, it’s the only helicopter of any real popularity that is flown by private owners.”

Both the Times investigation and Zimmerman’s follow-up analysis are worth reading in full.

Something to consider...

Civil Beat is a small, independent newsroom that provides free content with no paywall. That means readership growth alone can’t sustain our journalism.

The truth is that less than 2% of our monthly readers are financial supporters. To remain a viable business model for local news, we need a higher percentage of readers-turned-donors.

Will you consider making a tax-deductible gift today?

About the Author