WAILUKU, Hawaii - Rescue crews completed the grim and dangerous task Saturday of retrieving the bodies of seven people killed when a tour helicopter crashed on a steep mountain hillside.
A ten-man crew rappelled down from the helicopter to a ridge and then set new lines to rappel to the site at the 2,700-foot level.
''There's no place a helicopter can land, so the men are rappelling down,'' said Lt. John Morioka, a spokesman for the Maui Police Department.
The crash Friday of the Blue Hawaiian Helicopters twin-engine AS355 occurred in a remote area of Iao Valley on Maui. Photos of the scene show the tail section intact but the rest of the helicopter disintegrated into pieces.
The crash site has a deep slope of about 30 degrees, and is a wet and slick area, making it difficult for crews to gain access. Among the recovery team are a master rappeller and crews who take part in eradicating marijuana from remote areas.
Identities of the victims won't be released until the bodies are positively identified by the Maui County medical examiner's office, Morioka said. Families of six of the victims, said to be tourists, have been notified and some are already on the island, he said.
Richard Sword, a Maui psychologist handling disaster stress control for the families of victims, told local media the passengers included two teen-age girls from Texas and a father and his three children.
An investigator from the National Transportation Safety Board is on Maui to look into the crash, which occurred during a 35-minute sightseeing tour of the West Maui mountains. The investigator, George Petterson, said he expects to issue a preliminary report in about five days.
The pilot was a Vietnam veteran with more than 11,000 hours of flight time and had been with the company more than a year, said Patti Chevalier, co-owner of the company with her husband, Dave, a former Vietnam scout pilot.
This is the first accident involving a Blue Hawaiian tour helicopter since the company began operations in 1985.
It was Hawaii's third notable aircraft crash in 11 months. On Sept. 25, a tour plane crashed on the slopes of Mauna Loa on the Big Island, killing all 10 people on board. On May 10, a private jet slammed into a hillside while approaching an airport on Molokai, killing all six people on board.