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Factual report on fatal helicopter crash released

Debris recovered earlier this year

The engine of a Robinson Helicopter R44 that crashed in the ocean near Molokai two years ago was recovered from the ocean floor in January. A National Transportation Safety Board factual report said there was no evidence of mechanical or heat damage. National Transportation Safety Board photo

The fuselage of a Robinson Helicopter R44 that crashed in the ocean off Molokai two years ago, killing two aboard, was severely fragmented and partially embedded in the ocean floor, according to video from an underwater remotely-operated vehicle at the crash site.

In October 2018, a private company hired by an unnamed individual to locate the helicopter that crashed a year earlier on Oct. 16, 2017, initially located the wreckage submerged about 2 miles offshore of Molokai. The wreckage was at a depth of 298 feet.

The company reported that a portion of the wreckage was recovered on Jan. 24, according to information in a recently filed National Transportation Safety Board Aviation Accident Factual Report.

The helicopter engine also was recovered. An analysis indicated that there was no evidence of any mechanical damage or heat distress throughout the internal area of the engine, the report said.

Jeremy Dossetter, 27, and Oliver Kirsch, 25, were killed in the crash, NTSB and news reports have said.

Debris from a helicopter crash off Molokai on Oct. 16, 2017, was recovered by a private company in January. Two people died in the crash. National Transportation Safety Board photo

The helicopter was registered to Stasys Aviation Leasing LLC and operated by Hawaii Pacific Aviation doing business as Mauna Loa Helicopters.

Kirsch was listed as a certified flight instructor on Mauna Loa Helicopters’ website. He grew up in the Swiss Alps and began his flying career by paragliding, according to the website.

The NTSB preliminary report identified Dossetter as a commercial pilot.

A flight plan was filed, and the helicopter took off from Daniel K. Inouye International Airport on Oahu at an undetermined time.

Air traffic control at the Honolulu airport cleared the flight for a practice “missed approach procedure” on instruments to Molokai Airport, NTSB reports said. Air traffic controllers instructed the pilots to climb to 4,000 feet.

After completing the altitude adjustment and practice procedure, the pilots radioed air traffic controllers. Air traffic controllers cleared the helicopter to return to the Honolulu airport with instructions to fly on a heading of 260 degrees at an altitude of 4,000 feet, the factual report said.

Air traffic controllers then issued a heading change to 240 degrees to align with a runway for landing, which the pilots confirmed. The factual report said air traffic controllers noticed the flight gaining altitude to the instructed 4,000 feet.

But then the helicopter took a right turn and later a left turn, descended from 4,000 feet to 3,700 feet in about 35 seconds, then climbed to 3,900 feet. The helicopter turned to a westerly heading and descended again to about 2,700 feet when radar contact was lost about 6 miles northwest of Molokai Airport at around 7:18 p.m.

The U.S. Coast Guard reported an air unit located debris and red chemlight floating in the ocean northwest of Molokai. The following day, an air unit from the Maui Fire Department located an uninflated life jacket along the northwest shoreline of Molokai, the report said.

The search for the helicopter and the men was suspended on the evening of Oct. 19, 2017.

A National Weather Service area forecast discussion for the area issued at 4 p.m. on the day of the crash, the closest to the accident time, noted that trade winds would bring strong gusty northeasterly winds with scattered rain showers to continue through the day with “reduced ceilings and visibility in the showers.”

The weather conditions could create an environment favorable for unexpected changes in wind direction and speed, the report said.

The NTSB’s final report of probable cause of the crash is set to be released Oct. 2.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.