Board Meeting Opening Statement: Collision into Terrain Safari Aviation Inc. Airbus AS350 B2, N985SA

​​​​Good morning and welcome to the first in-person meeting of the National Transportation Safety Board since February of 2020. [I’m excited to welcome you all to our Board Room.]

I’m Jennifer Homendy and I’m honored to serve as Chair of the NTSB. Joining us are my colleagues on the Board: 

  • Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg.
  • Member Michael Graham.
  • And Member Tom Chapman.

Today we meet in open session as required by the Government in the Sunshine Act to consider the draft final report of the air tour helicopter accident that occurred on December 26, 2019, near Kekaha, Hawaii, on the island of Kauai.

At about 4:57 p.m. Hawaii standard time, a helicopter operated by Safari Aviation as a commercial air tour flight encountered instrument meteorological conditions and collided into terrain in a remote, wooded area.

The weather on Kauai had been favorable for tours for most of the day. However, just before the accident flight departed, low clouds and rain began moving onshore from the northwest. This was an atypical weather pattern for Kauai and affected locations on the tour route, including areas where the accident flight was headed.

At least 3 other tour pilots saw the adverse weather and decided to divert their tours away from it. The accident pilot, however, decided to continue his tour into deteriorating weather, eventually losing adequate visual references before the helicopter struck terrain.

The pilot and all 6 passengers were fatally injured.

On behalf of the NTSB, I’d like to offer our deepest condolences to those who lost a loved ones in this crash. We are truly sorry for your loss.

Though we cannot take away your pain, we can promise you this: the NTSB will not rest until the safety recommendations stemming from this tragedy are implemented.

I often say that finalizing the report is just the first step; real safety change comes when our recommendations are implemented and, in this case, we will talk about several recommendations we’ve issued that could have prevented this accident but those recommendations still have NOT been implemented and, as a result, more lives were lost.

In a moment, the NTSB investigative team will walk us through the sequence of events surrounding this crash in detail.

Each Board Member has studied the draft report and met individually with the investigative team. This is the first time we’ve gathered as a Board to discuss the report.

NTSB staff will present the pertinent facts and analysis and summarize their findings. After their presentations, Board Members will question staff on the key safety issues uncovered during the investigation. These include pilot decision-making, monitoring of air tour pilot operating practices by Safari and the Federal Aviation Administration, and helicopter safety technologies.

Staff will then propose the relevant findings, probable cause, and safety recommendations for Board consideration.

Following the incorporation of any amendments voted on today, the final report will be available on our website in a few weeks.

The public docket for this investigation was released on December 15, 2021, and contains over 1500 pages of additional relevant material. It’s available on our website at NTSB.gov.

Before we begin, I’d like to thank the following groups that served as parties to our investigation. While they are not part of the analysis, parties are crucial in helping us develop the facts around an investigation. The parties to this investigation were the Federal Aviation Administration and Safari Aviation, Inc.

In accordance with the provisions of Annex 13 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, France’s Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety, or BEA, participated in the investigation as the accredited representative of the state of manufacture of the airframe and engine. Airbus Helicopters and Safran Engines participated as technical advisers to the BEA.

I’d also like to thank our colleagues in the Office of Aviation Safety and throughout the NTSB for their hard work on this investigation and in putting together this draft report, proposed findings, probable cause, and safety recommendations.

I’ll now ask Deputy Managing Director for Investigations Brian Curtis to introduce members of the NTSB team participating in today’s meeting. Good morning, Mr. Curtis.​


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