Crews Recover Bodies From Sightseeing Tour AS355 Helicopter Crash

Rescue crews completed the dangerous task Saturday of retrieving the bodies of seven people killed Friday in a tour helicopter crash on Maui.

The crash of the Blue Hawaiian Helicopters twin-engine AS355 occurred on a steep mountain hillside in a remote area of Iao Valley. Photos of the crash scene provided by police show the tail section intact but the rest of the helicopter disintegrated into thousands of pieces.

The crash site has a deep slope of about 30 degrees, and is a wet and slick area, making it difficult for crews to gain access, said Lt. John Morioka, a spokesman for the Maui Police Department.

“There’s no place a helicopter can land, so the men are rappelling down,” he said.

A 10-man crew rappelled down from the helicopter to a ridge and then set new lines to rappel to the site at the 2,700-foot level, Morioka said.

Among the recovery team are a master rappeller and crews who take part in eradicating marijuana from remote areas, he said.

George Petterson, an investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, said Saturday morning that recovery of the bodies would continue during the day, with recovery of the wreckage scheduled for today.

He said he will review pilot and maintenance records, and meet with representatives of the helicopter and engine manufacturers who are en route to the island.

“We really need to look at all the parts and pieces and look at the whole picture,” he said. He expects to issue a preliminary report in about five days.

Dental records were used to identify the pilot as Larry Kirsh, 55, police said.

The names of the other victims were to be released after they are positively identified through their dental records, which are to arrive Monday, said Richard Sword, a Maui psychologist handling disaster stress control for the families of victims.

The Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram identified two of the victims as 14-year-old girlfriends Whitney Wood of Burleson, Texas, and Natalie Prince of Fort Worth, Texas.

A Honolulu television station quoted unidentified sources as identifying the four remaining passengers as a family from New Jersey — William John Jordan, his wife, Jan Hortivick, and their two children, Max Jordan, 17, and Linsey Jordan, 16.

Families of the six passengers have been notified and some are already on the island, Morioka said.

The crash occurred during a 35-minute sightseeing tour of the West Maui mountains.

Kirsh was a Vietnam veteran with more than 11,000 hours of flight time and had been with the company more than a year, said Patti Chevalier, co-owner of the company with her husband, Dave, a former Vietnam scout pilot.

This is the first accident involving a Blue Hawaiian tour helicopter since the company began operations in 1985.

This was Hawaii’s third notable aircraft crash in 11 months. On Sept. 25, a tour plane crashed on the slopes of Mauna Loa on the Big Island, killing all 10 people on board.

On May 10, a private jet slammed into a hillside while approaching an airport on Molokai, killing all six people on board.

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