The Coast Guard announced it was calling off the search for a missing helicopter and the two men aboard it four days after the aircraft is believed to have gone down in the waters off of Molokai, Hawaii. The Robinson R44 was on a day flight from the island of Oahu to the island of Molokai and was on its way home when it disappeared.
On board, the helicopter was an instructor and a student from Mauna Loa Helicopters, a Hawaiian helicopter company. The flight company and the helicopter manufacturer have been involved in crashes in the past, but until the helicopter is located it will be difficult to identify what caused any accident or who is ultimately responsible.
Mauna Loa Helicopter Instructor and Student Pilot Disappeared After Day Trip
The Robinson R44 departed from Honolulu, Oahu, on October 16, 2017, with 27-year-old advanced student pilot Jeremy Dossetter and 25-year-old instructor Oliver Kirsch on board. It’s believed the duo had plans for a day trip to Molokai as part of the training Dossetter was receiving through Mauna Loa Helicopters' flight school.
Dossetter and Kirsch had left Molokai and were returning to Honolulu when the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport control tower in Honolulu lost contact with their aircraft. The control tower put in a call to Coast Guard Joint Response Coordination Center at 7:26 p.m., alerting the search and rescue organization to the helicopter’s disappearance from communication.
Numerous Resources Used in Search for Missing Robinson R44 Helicopter
The search for Dossetter and Kirsch began immediately, with the Coast Guard diverting both an airplane and helicopter that were training the area to aid in efforts.
“We actually had a C-130 Hercules airplane out conducting training that diverted and reported on the scene, and also a Navy 60 was also out conducting training,” Petty Officer 3rd Class Amanda Levasseur said in a statement to KHON2. “So both assets got on scene and started search patterns.”
Two Coast Guard cutter ships-the Galveston Island and the Ahi were used alternately in the search, as well as a Coast Guard helicopter, the Navy helicopter that initially responded to the scene, and the Air 1 helicopter from the Maui County Fire Department.
The Honolulu Fire Department, Mauna Loa Helicopters, and other flight schools also helped search for the missing Robinson R44, including ground crews who walked the shoreline for any sign of the men or the aircraft.
A total of 53 different searches were conducted, and 19,300 square miles were checked before the Coast Guard announced they were calling off the search on October 19, 2017, four days after the initial reports of lost communication with the aircraft.
“Making the decision to suspend a search-and-rescue case is incredibly difficult and is done only when we have exhausted all possible search efforts,” Lt. Christopher Sena, a command duty officer with the Honolulu Coast Guard Joint Rescue Coordination Command Center said to KHON2. “We extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the young men. We want to extend appreciation to the Navy, Maui County Fire Department, Honolulu Fire Department, and Mauna Loa Helicopter Pilot School for all their efforts in assisting with the search.”
Debris Found in Nearby Waters
The C-130 Hercules airplane and Navy helicopter that initiated the search for the missing Mauna Loa Helicopters aircraft discovered debris and ChemLights in the water about 1.5 miles off the northwest Molokai shoreline but were unable to confirm if the debris was from the Robinson R44 crash.
An Air 1 helicopter with the Maui County Fire Department also found an uninflated life vest on October 17, 2017, a day after the suspected Molokai helicopter crash, and were able to confirm, through Mauna Loa Helicopters, that it was from the missing aircraft.
Fisherman Believes He Witnessed Molokai Helicopter Crash
Tim Emmanuel, a Molokai resident who was fishing at Moomomi Bay around the time the Robinson R44 is believed to have crashed, says he saw a red blinking light descend rapidly from the sky.
“The way the speed the light was coming down, I no like think the worst,” Emmanuel said in an interview with Maui News. “The impact must have been mean.”
Emmanuel initially believed that he might have seen a drone, which he says are common in the area, but poor weather conditions, including wind and rain, prevented him from pinpointing where the light had landed in the ocean. Shortly after that, he saw a helicopter scanning the area where he saw the blinking light. It was likely the Navy 60 aircraft that had diverted from training to begin the search.
Helicopter Instructor Blogged About Living His Dream in Hawaii
Mauna Loa Helicopters has said relatively little in the wake of the Robinson R44 disappearance, but Ben Fouts, who owns the company, confirmed that Kirsch had worked for them for nearly two years and that Dossetter had been doing flight training through the school for about a year. No statements have been posted on the company’s website or Facebook page.
In 2015, the Mauna Loa Helicopters website featured a write-up about the Swiss-born Kirsch, who it had chosen as its Helicopter Training Student of the Month. Kirsch said in that interview that he wanted to become a helicopter pilot after being rescued by a helicopter, and says that flying between the different Hawaiian Islands was one of his favorite helicopter experiences with the school.
Kirsch also had a blog where he kept friends back in Europe abreast of his activities in the States. On the site, he said “what sounds like a dream is actually true and my daily life.” His last post, on September 20, 2016, talks about working six weeks straight, for 12 hours a day, with no days off. He says he soon asked to change his schedule for at least one day off a week. Kirsch says, in the same post, that he has 540 hours of flight time, and that he expected to hit 1,000 hours by July of 2017. It would be toward the end of his time in Hawaii, Kirsch notes, because his Visa was set to expire in February of 2018, and he would have to leave the U.S.
Mauna Loa Helicopters Has Been Involved in Other Helicopter Incidents
Helicopter crashes are not foreign to Mauna Loa Helicopters, who had a Robinson R22 crash land in the middle of a busy Honolulu street after plummeting 3,000 feet in May of 2013 (the company’s contracted mechanic ultimately said it was his fault the engine failed).
A year prior, in May of 2012, a separate Mauna Loa Helicopters Robinson R22 crashed near Kailua Kona on the Big Island, injuring two men aboard during the hard landing.
Such helicopter crashes are frighteningly common in the Hawaiian Islands, with numerous accidents each year, and a surprising number of fatal crashes in recent years.