Officials say there were no survivors in a helicopter crash on the south side of Molokai.
According to the Maui Fire Department, Air 1 located the wreckage at 1:31 p.m. Wednesday in the area of Pukoo, after hours of searching by multiple Coast Guard air and surface crews and a Maui fire aircrew.
The body of a man and a woman were found. Though they have yet to be officially identified, family members confirm the man was prominent Honolulu attorney Gary Galiher, 70.
He practiced law for nearly 40 years, and made a mark helping families affected by mesothelioma and asbestos.
“He was my father, but also a huge role model in my life,” said his daughter, Mari Galiher. “I think right now it’s a lot of grief but just — what an incredible, passionate man. … We were just talking about how hard he’s worked in his career to develop what he has and he was just always reminding me to be passionate about whatever I was doing in my lifetime, whether it was through work or volunteering or doing whatever it was in the community, but always be passionate about that, and that’s what I will forever be grateful to him for.”
She described the day as an emotional roller coaster and added, “I think I’m speaking on behalf of the entire family and friends, the law firm as well, just thank you all so much. We’re still really grieving the loss of my father, but it seems so surreal in so many ways. … Thank you so much, whether it was the Maui team for search and rescue, the Maui Police Department, Maui Fire Department, Coast Guard, it was amazing to see how many people were just coming together to help us.”
On Thursday, real estate company Locations identified the woman as realtor Keiko Kuroki, an employee since 2005.
“We’re really heartbroken. She was a terrific professional, came here from Japan and has been with the firm for 11 years, and through that time had excellent client service ratings all throughout, so it’s really hard for a lot of us,” said Scott Higashi, Locations president and CEO.
“Keiko was not the person in the office who was trying to be the life of the party. She wasn’t the one who was gregarious and splashy, but she built relationships one by one,” Higashi added. “She was really classy, quiet, deliberate, smart, and energetic.”
“The fire department is going to be working alongside Maui police and other federal agencies in the recovery of the victims and preservation of the aircraft wreckage site,” said Maui Fire Department fire services chief Ed Taomoto. “The fire department extends its heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of the victims. This is not an easy thing to deal with, even for responders.”
The crash site is in a remote area approximately 1.3 miles above 793 Kamehameha V Highway, officials said. Crews had to be dropped off by helicopter.
The black, privately owned Hughes 369D helicopter reportedly departed Honolulu Tuesday evening with two people on board and did not arrive at a private helicopter pad on Molokai as expected.
The helicopter was reported overdue at 6:55 a.m. Wednesday. An employee called 911 and dispatch notified the Coast Guard.
According to the law firm Galiher DeRobertis Waxman, Galiher left Honolulu at around 6 p.m. and hadn’t been heard from since. He was supposed to spend the day working on Molokai.
Galiher’s older daughter, Mika Galiher, spoke to KHON2 by phone from Los Angeles earlier Wednesday.
“I’m really struggling through today. It’s pretty tough,” she said. “The second I heard that, and that his phone was off, or that he wasn’t responding and they couldn’t track his iPhone, the second I heard that, my knees went weak and my stomach just dropped. I can’t imagine my life without my dad.”
Mika Galiher says her father was an avid pilot who has been flying since he was in his 20s. She says he owned a second home on the island, and the route from Oahu to Molokai was a familiar one.
“He flies this route all the time, at least once a week, sometimes more than that,” she said. “I’ve been the passenger a lot. I’ve been in a helicopter with him where we made emergency landings twice because of rainstorms. I have total faith in his flying skills.”
The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.
An NTSB investigator arrived from Anchorage on Thursday. Clint Johnson will work to determine what caused the helicopter to go down.
Investigators have not ruled out weather as a factor. Conditions were reported as 21 to 23 mph winds, partly sunny with showers.
Weather plays such a key role in flying that the National Weather Service compiles information specifically for pilots, called the Aviation Weather Center.
The website also allows other pilots to share any wind patterns they experienced while up in the air. PIREPs are pilot reports that list the conditions pilots encountered.
Forecaster Leigh Anne Eaton says it will list any sort of turbulence pilots went through in specific areas. It will also show what type of plane or helicopter was flown, so pilots can gauge how the turbulence will affect their aircraft.
Eaton says weather plays a huge role in a pilot’s journey: “Think about it in driving. Weather plays a role in driving. If it’s pouring rain, you’re going to take precautions and drive slower. For flying, it’s sort of the same thing. You want high visibility.”
The FAA says anyone can hear recorded information on weather conditions by calling (808) 567-6106.
Experts say the helicopter that crashed is commonly used by tour companies here in Hawaii, and is the same model used by the Honolulu Fire Department.
The Hughes 369D is a single-engine, 250-horsepower aircraft. The one owned by Galiher seats up to four people, including the pilot.
FAA records say it was built in 1979. Those in the aviation industry say that’s not very old for a helicopter.
Richard Schuman, owner of Makani Kai Helicopters, owns two of them. He says they’re popular because they are very reliable and stable, which makes them fairly easy to fly.
Schuman says Galiher took very good care of his helicopter to the point where he would bring in his own mechanics from the mainland to examine the chopper and maintain it properly.
We learned Galiher bought another helicopter, a Bell 407, which is considerably bigger and newer. It’s a 250-horsepower, single-engine aircraft that seats eight people, and it was made in 2014.
Dennis Mathewson, an artist Galiher hired for custom projects like those on his helicopter and boat, said despite his impressive resume, Galiher was a regular guy.
“I always enjoyed being around him because I knew the person that he really was, not that lawyer in a suit,” Mathewson said. “I just knew him as Gary and that goofy T-shirt every time I saw him, so it was good. I’m going to miss him greatly.”