Rising high above a picturesque terrain gives spectacular perspective to a newly discovered destination.
Helicopter tours are a great way to add an extra sense of adventure to any vacation — but are they safe?
Flashy advertising and alluring marketing gets countless tourists on the high-stakes excursion of helicopter tours. But for some, it became their last journey.
Just last week, a deadly helicopter crash took place on the northern shoreline of Kauai, causing its Congressman and concerned citizens to question the safety of the popular touring method.
The rubble of Thursday’s wreck left no hope for those on board The Safari Helicopter tour.
After crashing on the unforgiving rocks of the Na Pali Coast, the remains of six people were recovered, according to AP News, with the seventh victim still missing.
Among the deceased were pilot Paul Matero, 69, of Wailua, Hawaii; 47-year-old Amy Gannon; and 13-year-old Jocelyn Gannon of Wisconsin, police said in a public statement.
The identities of the four other passengers have not been released yet, but include two young girls, ages 10 and 13.
So how did this happen?
How did a helicopter go down when a seasoned pilot was flying, as the touring company claims, and the trip had been done hundreds of times before?
Inside the uninhabited state park where the crash took place are high mountains and low ravines among the thick jungle off the Pacific Ocean…basically an environment that offers no landing sites once the helicopter takes off.
Some would blame the terrain for the accident, although state officials have taken a more bureaucratic approach to the issue.
U.S Rep. Ed Case of Hawaii “blames the Federal Aviation Administration for not taking National Transportation Safety Board safety improvement efforts seriously and the industry for not regulating itself,” reports AP News.
But the experts in the industry hold a different opinion.
Texas-based aviation attorney and pilot himself, Ladd Sanger, has reviewed several cases involving helicopter crashes in Hawaii and says that “tour operators on Kauai face unique challenges because of weather and topography,” AP News reports.
Hawaii, especially Kauai, has “microclimates,” which is where the weather on one part of the island can be different than that of another area mere miles away.
The Safari Helicopter tour surely checked the weather before they departed, but was unable to foresee the particular microclimate they encountered.
When the Coast Guard went to check on the helicopter pilot after the tour company reported failed correspondence, they fell upon unexpected winds, rain, and poor visibility.
Winter is the most dangerous time of year to travel the Hawaiian skies with increased rain and “turbulent seas,” warns Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources spokesman Dan Dennison.
Unfortunately, this crash is not an isolated incident.
According to the NTSB aviation accident database, there have been nine helicopter crashes in Hawaii in the last ten years and three fatalities.
The FAA did tighten regulations on parachuting operations after the previous accidents, but did not alter regulations on all helicopter tour companies.
Is it safe to take a helicopter tour?
Helicopter tours are a fun way to see the landscape from a jaw-dropping view. They are especially popular in cities such as Las Vegas, Orlando, and Washington D.C.
Many factors affect flight risk, and knowing these prior to take-off is helpful. Look at the weather forecast, wind speed, and visibility index.
A pro may feel comfortable flying in increased-risk scenarios, but opting for a brighter day is in your best interest.
While traveling to tropical areas in the winter, such as Hawaii, is cheaper and less crowded with tourists, it can come with a downside.
The weather may not be on your side to do certain excursions such as a helicopter tour. And history has shown it’s not worth taking a chance.
Please let us know in the comments section if you’ve ever had a frightening incident on a helicopter tour.