Of course it’s too early to know why the Safari Helicopters AStar crashed this week, killing all aboard. But it sure looks like a long line of other Hawai’ian tour crashes that fall under the category “Controlled Flight Into Terrain,” or CFIT for short.
Hawai’i is subject to “microclimates.” The weather can be fine at the
helicopter’s point of departure, but the pilot can encounter clouds, rain or fog along the route. The pilot then has a choice. He can turn around and disappoint the tourists on board. Or he can press on a bit, deviating around the clouds and fog as necessary.
The plan works fine until it’s time to return to base. If the usual path is blocked by the deteriorating weather, the pilot must improvise, cutting across terrain with which he may not be familiar. If the helicopter flies into the clouds, the pilot will become disoriented, he will lose control and crash. So he will try to stay below the clouds, a practice often called “scud-running.”
Scud running can turn lethal when either the cloud deck drops suddenly or the ground rises, causing the aircraft to fly into the terrain feature at a high rate of speed.
Other CFIT accidents I’ve written about: