Fire and helicopter parts have rained from the sky in a suburban Honolulu community as a tour helicopter crashed and killed all three people aboard including an Australian woman.
The crash occurred in Kailua, a town of 50,000 people about 30 minutes drive from downtown Honolulu, on a two-lane road amid one and two-story homes, emergency officials say.
Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials confirmed on Wednesday afternoon Sydney time that consular assistance was being provided to “the family of an Australian woman who has died in Hawaii”.
Another woman passenger and the male pilot also died in the crash.
“All you could see was fire,” witness Melissa Solomon said, explaining that she was driving when she looked up to see flames and a helicopter plummeting in front of her.
She said she had turned onto another street because she was afraid more pieces were going to fall onto her and her 16-year-old daughter in the front passenger seat.
“We could have been smashed by it,” she said.
Paramedics responding to an unrelated call from a patient about 30 metres away heard “a horrific bang”, said Shayne Enright, for Honolulu Emergency Medical Services.
When they turned around, they saw a helicopter on fire.
“When they got there, neighbours were doing a heroic job trying to put out the fire and also trying to get the patients away from the burning aircraft,” Enright said.
Darel Robinson was doing construction work at a house about a half-mile from the crash site when he heard what sounded like helicopter blades thumping and then a loud boom.
“It was going nose down and parts were starting to fly off,” he said.
Megan Lacy, of Alabama, was visiting friends when they heard the crash. They went outside, expecting to find two cars after they had hit each other.
“We were really confused,” she said.
“And then we heard screaming and the word ‘fire’ and I saw smoke,” she said.
Debris damaged her rental car about 100 metres from the crash.
A resident said he heard the morning crash then saw a ball of fire in a road when he ran from his house.
Leleo Knappenberger told Hawaii News Now his mother heard the helicopter flying over the house, making a strange noise.
He said he later saw what appeared to be the tail end of the helicopter.
“It’s all smashed to pieces,” he said.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said the agency believes three people were on board the four-seat, Robinson R44 aircraft.
He said the circumstances of the crash were unknown.
No further details were available on those killed.
The helicopter, built in 2000, is registered to United Helicopter Leasing LLC of Honolulu, according to FAA records. State business records show Nicole Vandelaar as the manager.
A website for the Honolulu tour helicopter company Novictor Helicopters identified Nicole Vandelaar as founder and CEO. The website said she is an expert pilot commercially licensed to fly helicopters and planes.