Kauai glider company has crashed before

The ultralight crash on Kauai on Tuesday, March 11, that killed both pilot and passenger, isn’t the first for owner Birds in Paradise. The company was sued more than four years ago. In August 2009, Neil Shoemaker suffered serious leg injuries when the ultralight he was in crashed.

“He was up with a Birds in Paradise pilot in questionable weather near Mount Waialeale and they got caught in heavy weather and a down draft,” said Rick Fried, Shoemaker’s attorney.

Shoemaker filed a lawsuit against Birds in Paradise and settled out of court for $450,000.

According to the Kauai-based company’s website, instructors show customers the basics of flying, which is legal. The Federal Aviation Administration says no person may operate an aircraft in the light-sport category for compensation or hire, except to tow a glider or an unpowered ultralight vehicle, or to conduct flight training.

But Fried says that’s not what the company does. When asked if Shoemaker was told the flight would be a lesson or a tour, Fried said, “I don’t know that he was told anything. If they’re asked, that’s what happens, because he knew it was going to be a tour and that’s what he wanted.”

KHON2 made several phone calls to Birds in Paradise to ask about their business, but they all went to voicemail and no one has called back.

More than two years ago, the FAA met with ultralight operators on Kauai to ensure they understood the regulations. KHON2 pressed the FAA to find out what could be done to tighten those regulations. Officials quoted a manager from that meeting more than two years ago, saying “we do not need new regulations to address this issue. Rather, we need to ensure that all operators follow existing regulations.”

When asked how the FAA has been doing that, officials said they do “unannounced surveillance on all types of aircraft operators, including the LSA (light-sport aircraft) operators.”

The FAA will be looking into the area of Tuesday’s crash as well as the purpose of the aircraft’s flight.

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