Tour helicopter in Maui hard landing carried Make-a-Wish family

Photo: Francis Cerizo

A visiting Make-A-Wish family got quite a scare Tuesday morning when its helicopter tour abruptly ended with a hard landing on Maui.

The family of six from Bellevue, Ill. was just starting its tour with Sunshine Helicopters when the aircraft experienced mechanical failure, according to Sunshine Helicopters owner Ross Scott.

Scott said the flight originated from Kahului Airport and was heading into Waihee Valley when it happened, at around 9:51 a.m.

“He was at about 2,500 feet, so he… turned toward a safe place to land,” Scott said. “The pilot did exactly what he’s supposed to do — just land the aircraft by auto rotating and setting down.”

Autorotation for a helicopter means disengaging the engine from the main rotor system, so that the rotor blades move just by the upward flow of air while the copter descends.

Scott said the helicopter landed in about eight feet of elephant grass, which helped cushion the hard landing.

The family and the pilot were reported safe with no need for medical attention, according to the Maui Fire Dept.

Scott said another helicopter was sent to bring the pilot and the family back to the airport.

The rotor blades were removed from the helicopter and the copter itself is scheduled to be airlifted on to a flatbed truck Tuesday night and driven to the company’s airport hanger, he told KHON2.

Scott said Sunshine Helicopters will cooperate with the Federal Aviation Administration. An investigator is expected to arrive on Maui on Wednesday.

The National Transportaion Safety Board will likely get involved as well, he added.

Despite the accident, Scott said the Illinois family has rescheduled another tour with the company for Thursday.

Sunshine Helicopters operates on Maui, Oahu, Kauai, Hawaii Island and the Grand Canyon.

Siana Austin Hunt, president and CEO of Make-A-Wish Hawaii released the following statement:

“Make-A-Wish Hawaii learned of the incident this morning involving our wish family visiting from Illinois and has confirmed the safety of all participants and crew on board the helicopter. Sunshine Helicopters is a trusted partner for Make-A-Wish Hawaii, and we have been in communication with the tour company and we are confident in their professional handling of the incident. We will continue to ensure our wish family is treated to a once in a lifetime wish experience.”

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