Hawaii helicopter crash victims from Toronto ID'd

AP News
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Posted: Nov 14, 2011 10:30 PM
Hawaii helicopter crash victims from Toronto ID'd

Authorities on Monday released the names of the Canadian couple killed in last week's tour helicopter crash on the Hawaiian island of Molokai.

Maui County police Lt. Wayne K. Ibarra identified the married couple as Stewart Robertson, 50, and Eva Birgitta Wannersjo, 47, of Toronto. They were among five people killed when the 45-minute sightseeing flight operated by Blue Hawaiian Helicopters plunged into a hillside Thursday.

The others were pilot Nathan Cline, 30, and newlyweds Michael and Nicole Abel of Pittsburgh. Michael Abel, 25, and Nicole Abel, 28, both worked in the nuclear services division at Westinghouse Electric Co. and were married less than a week earlier.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators on Monday examined the wreckage, which was moved from the hillside to a facility on Maui, in hopes of determining the cause of the crash.

The NTSB will also review maintenance records, the pilot's medical history, radar data, weather reports, witness accounts and air traffic communications if it is available. NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said the agency should have a preliminary report available by the end of this week or early next week.

The Eurocopter EC-130, which took off from Maui, was engulfed in flames after crashing into a hillside about a quarter-mile from Kilohana Elementary School. The school's principal said it was cloudy at the time of the crash, and it had just been raining hard.

Blue Hawaiian Helicopters owner David Chevalier told The Associated Press after the crash that the helicopter was less than a year old. The company conducts 160,000 tours each year throughout the Hawaiian Islands.

A Blue Hawaiian helicopter was previously involved in a July 2000 crash that killed seven people on Maui.

In that accident, pilot Larry Kirsch, 55, and six passengers died when the twin-engine AS-355 crashed into a steep mountainside deep in Maui's Iao Valley. An NTSB report said the pilot failed to maintain enough altitude over the terrain amid low-lying clouds, and the helicopter slammed into the side of a ridge in the valley.

Tour companies advertise trips to mostly rural Molokai to see the island's sea cliffs and Hawaii's tallest waterfall. Another attraction is the remote Kalaupapa peninsula where Belgian-born Joseph de Veuster, or Father Damien, cared for leprosy patients who were exiled there by Kingdom of Hawaii in the mid-1800s. Pope Benedict XVI canonized Father Damien a saint in 2009.

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