Tourists taking photos of Pearl Harbor on Thursday morning were shocked when a sightseeing helicopter crashed only 20 feet away from where they stood. The Pearl Harbor helicopter crash happened near the Arizona Memorial visitors center at around 10:15 a.m.
Amateur video footage taken by tourist Shawn Winrich shows the helicopter, a Bell 206B, hovering for a moment about 100 feet above the harbor, then dramatically falling out of control into the water. The Bell 206B began to sink almost immediately in roughly 10 feet of water.
Three people inside the helicopter were able to successfully extricate themselves out and swim toward the shore. A fourth victim followed soon after. The fifth person aboard the Bell 206B, a 16-year-old boy, was reportedly stuck in his seat, unable to escape.
A number of witnesses to the Pearl Harbor helicopter crash immediately sprung into action, jumping into the water to offer help to those onboard. Chris Gardner, a tour guide with Keawe Adventures, was one of three men who jumped in to offer assistance.
According to Gardner, he, a federal police officer and a Navy sailor were taking turns diving down to the submerged chopper to try and free the boy from his seat. Gardner told reporters that visibility was an issue, as fuel spilled out of the helicopter and made the water murky.
Using a knife, Gardner and the others were finally able to cut the boy out of his seat belt from the starboard side of the chopper. Reports have indicated that the teen was underwater for about three minutes and had to be resuscitated at the scene by emergency responders.
The 16-year-old Pearl Harbor helicopter crash victim was rushed to a nearby hospital in critical condition. Two other victims, a 45-year-old woman, and a 50-year-old man were also taken to an area hospital in stable condition, though the extent of their injuries has not yet been reported. Details on the other two victims, including the helicopter pilot, are unavailable.
While the identities of the Pearl Harbor helicopter crash victims have not yet been released by authorities, media outlets are reporting that the four passengers are family members.
What Caused the Pearl Harbor Helicopter Crash?
At this time, authorities are not commenting on what may have caused the Pearl Harbor Helicopter crash. Officials from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) have sent teams to Honolulu to conduct an investigation on the crash.
FAA records indicate that the 1979 Bell 206B helicopter is registered to Jeffrey Gebhard of Kailua, Hawaii, who owns Genesis Aviation. Th helicopter reportedly has a valid certificate that doesn’t expire until August of this year. According to the company website, Genesis Aviation has been in operation since 1999, providing “Door’s Off” helicopter tours over Oahu. Gebhard has not commented on the Pearl Harbor helicopter crash.
The Bell 206B was scheduled to return to Honolulu after touring the Waimea area when something went wrong. Witnesses say everything seemed normal as the helicopter hovered over the harbor. But as it fell from the sky and got closer to the water, the Bell 206B began to shake and dark smoke started pouring out, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
Hawaii Has Seen a Number of Sightseeing Helicopter Crashes in Recent Months
The Pearl Harbor helicopter crash is one of several recent sightseeing helicopter crashes in the state. In January, five people were injured in Kauai when a sightseeing helicopter made a hard landing on Kalalau Beach. Four of the five onboard suffered back injuries while the fifth victim sustained minor injuries. The cause of the Kauai crash is still under investigation.
In 2013, a two-seater Robinson R22 helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing on a downtown Honolulu street. The helicopter landed hard, then hit a parked car. The lone passenger aboard the helicopter, photographer Karl Hedberg, sustained a bad cut to his head. According to the Star Advertiser, the crash was caused by a broken mixture cable.
In 2011, a Blue Hawaiian helicopter crashed into mountainous terrain amid heavy rain and low visibility on the island of Molokai, killing all five people on board. According to the NTSB, the Molokai sightseeing helicopter crash was caused by the pilot failing to maintain clearance from the terrain while operating in marginal weather conditions, which “resulted in the impact of the horizontal stabilizer and lower forward portion of the Fenestron with the ground and/or vegetation and led to the separation of the Fenestron and the pilot’s subsequent inability to maintain control.”