Rotorcraft Update: Hawaiian air-tour accident claims family and pilot

 - July 30, 2008, 10:32 AM

The fiery wastelands of Hawaii’s vast volcano fields, among the world’s biggest and most violently active, are one of the Pacific Rim’s biggest tourist attractions and the kind of sightseeing lure best suited to helicopters. The forbidding landscape of lava lakes and fiery fountains is best viewed from the air due to its largely liquid nature and with little in the way of inhabitants to annoy. It is also, sadly, no place to lose an engine, and that’s apparently what happened to a Hughes 500E operated by K & S Helicopters of Hilo, Hawaii. Killed in the crash were Jody Laughman, Nicole Laughman and James Thomas–a Philadelphia-area family–along with pilot Russell Holliday, who had time to radio a “Mayday” and report engine trouble moments before the mid-morning crash on June 15. Rescuers worked through most of the following two days to retrieve the wreckage and remains, while a river of molten lava crept to within 50 yards of the site. The accident was the first fatal tour helicopter crash in the state in three years. Seven people died in July 2000 when a Blue Hawaiian Helicopters aircraft crashed into the side of Iao Valley on Maui.