Report: Visibility low when Hawaii tour helicopter crashed

FILE - In this Dec. 27, 2019, file photo released by the U.S. Coast Guard, the Cutter William Hart moves toward the Na Pali Coast on the Hawaiian island of Kauai on the day after a tour helicopter disappeared with seven people aboard. A person who was near a remote Hawaii site where a tour helicopter crashed and killed seven people last month told investigators that visibility was only about 20 feet (6 meters) at the time because of fog and rain, according to a preliminary accident report released Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020. (Lt. j.g. Daniel Winter/U.S. Coast Guard via AP, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 27, 2019, file photo released by the U.S. Coast Guard, the Cutter William Hart moves toward the Na Pali Coast on the Hawaiian island of Kauai on the day after a tour helicopter disappeared with seven people aboard. A person who was near a remote Hawaii site where a tour helicopter crashed and killed seven people last month told investigators that visibility was only about 20 feet (6 meters) at the time because of fog and rain, according to a preliminary accident report released Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020. (Lt. j.g. Daniel Winter/U.S. Coast Guard via AP, File) (US Coast Guard)

HONOLULU, HI – A person who was near a remote Hawaii site where a tour helicopter crashed and killed seven people last month told investigators that visibility was only about 20 feet (6 meters) at the time because of fog and rain, according to a preliminary accident report released Wednesday.

The unidentified person was on a hiking trail Dec. 26 in Koke'e State Park on Kauai island and described hearing a hovering helicopter followed by a high-pitched whine, the National Transportation Safety Board report said.

The person was about 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) away from the remote mountain ridge where the helicopter went down. The witness tried to look for the helicopter but could not because of the weather conditions and fading daylight, the report said.

The NTSB report also said that the helicopter's pilot was on his eighth and final scheduled 50-minute tour flight of the day. The report said the company operating the flight, Safari Aviation Inc., doing business as Safari Helicopters, was following procedures for visual flight rules.

The pilot, Paul Matero, did not have an instrument rating, which allows pilots to fly at night and in bad weather relying entirely on the helicopter's flight instruments, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

A lawyer who has handled several helicopter crashes in Hawaii told The Associated Press shortly after the crash that the nature of helicopter tours require them to fly by visual flight rules.

“Most of the pilots that fly tour helicopters in Hawaii either don’t have an instrument rating or their instrument rating isn’t current," said Ladd Sanger, the Texas-based aviation attorney and helicopter pilot. “When you have dynamic weather conditions, where you have clouds and winds, it might be more prudent not to fly in those conditions.”

Instrument-only tours would require a flight plan and altitude that would not be conducive to sightseeing, Sanger said.