Company knew of pilot's accident in Alaska

Posted: Wednesday, July 26, 2000

WAILUKU, Hawaii - The owners of a helicopter tour company on Maui say they knew about a previous accident for the pilot who was flying a sightseeing chopper that crashed last week in Iao Valley, killing all seven people aboard.

Blue Hawaiian Helicopters owner Patti Chevalier said Tuesday the company knew pilot Larry Kirsch was involved in a 1996 mid-air collision in Alaska.

The National Transportation Safety Board suspended Kirsch's license for 45 days after the incident, in which it found both pilots at fault. The pilot of the small plane had his license suspended for 60 days.

Chevalier said she and her husband decided to hire Kirsch after investigating his background and talking with federal aviation officials.

``We do full background checks on all pilots, Larry included,'' Chevalier said. ``In light of his 30 years of flight time and overall his experience, it was an anomaly.''

Kirsch was a Vietnam War veteran who later fought forest fires and did helicopter stunts in Hollywood. He moved to Maui last year.

The Alaska collision occurred while Kirsch was transporting three miners to an area near Vanert Glacier on a helicopter operated by Tundra Copters, the NTSB said.

The NTSB said Kirsch told an investigator he was looking for a place to land when he saw the Cessna 185 aircraft, operated by Talkeetna Air Taxi, about 20 feet away.

After impact, Kirsch said he let the chopper drift to about 50 feet above the ground before braking. He then made an emergency controlled landing.

The Talkeetna Air Taxi aircraft landed back at its operations base. No one was injured.

Meanwhile, investigators continued their probe into last week's crash.

Calling it too dangerous to return, the National Transportation Safety Board decided Tuesday against sending crews back to the site of last week's deadly tour helicopter crash on Maui.

NTSB investigator George Petterson said while some pieces of the wreckage remain on a steep mountainside of Iao Valley, it's not worth risking anyone's life to retrieve them.

Recovery crews brought down most of the remaining pieces of the Blue Hawaiian Helicopters AS-355 chopper on Sunday, one day after rappelling down to the area to retrieve the bodies of the seven victims of Friday's crash.

A camera mounted in the helicopter melted, but a light panel that may shed light on any possible problems before the crash was sent to Washington for analysis, Petterson said.

``I chose not to put anybody else at risk,'' Petterson said. ``Rather than risk anyone's life and limb, we decided to go with what we have.''

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