As Hawaii licensed, Bay Area attorney Gerald Sterns has litigated many helicopter crashes, (see list) I asked “What’s the problem?” in light of the Island’s most recent accident.
Hawaii readers will remember Mr. Sterns was the lead lawyer in the Molokai high school air crash. Where the aircraft also hit a ridge line. This one above the east end facing Maui. Mr. Sterns insisted the insurers pay for and install a big cross near near site of accident.
Mr. Sterns response is below:
“Sadly, the scenario always seems to be the same, regardless of the type of helicopter involved. Operations spring up, they may or may not be capitalized adequately; they acquire a flying machine or two, usually on lease, put in some sort of maintenance program which may or may not be up to snuff; find pilots, start advertising…and flying.
A case we were involved a few years ago may be painfully typical. Two couples, one honeymooner, the other on a first visit to the Islands, bought sight seeing trip with small operation on one of the islands.
Both machines leased with operators running on thin margin. Turned out they were unable to pay for insurance premiums on both machines, so they would rotate coverage. That is, “musical helicopters.” Transferring the liability coverage from one machine to the other periodically, trying to keep the uninsured machine on the ground, but all the while hanging on the Certificate of Insurance, in case anyone asked.
On the day on question the odds caught up with them, and the sightseeing trip, piloted by a newly acquired employee with who knows what sort of background, took off. Apparently he miscalculated winds, distance, visibility, or whatever, and slammed into a mountain side. Extensive litigation, but the insurance company was ruled not liable because the coverage was in fact on the one machine that was “in the shop” that day.
Multimillion dollar judgment against the helicopter operator: Totally uncollectible.
They had long since left the islands to return to Asia.
We have seen similar problems in other tourist oriented industries. Unqualified people with few assets, who may or may not have adequate insurance come in, set up shop in high risk situations with lovely names.
Sight seeing flights, parasailing, or one favorite, “Underwater adventures!” Then; accidents. People are injured or killed.
There has to be a better system and better policing of these vendors, especially in flying tours. Hawaii’s going to get a very bad name, and people are going to go somewhere else, or if here, avoid these undertakings like the plague.
The FAA allegedly has occupied the field with respect to regulations for the operation of flying machines. But with the exception of a very few cases, the FAA has no rules regarding adequate insurance and qualifications for these operations. A better way is needed.