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Report blames pilot for 2011 Hawaii crash that killed Pittsburgh couple

Michael Abel and Nicole Bevilacqua Abel were two engineers with a bright future ahead.

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Staff and Wire Reports
Friday, July 25, 2014, 10:24 p.m.

KAUNAKAKAI, Hawaii — The likely cause of a Molokai helicopter crash that killed all five people aboard was the pilot flying too close to the mountains during inclement weather, the National Transportation Safety Board determined in a final report published Friday.

Pilot Nathan Cline, newlyweds Michael and Nicole Abel of Pittsburgh, and Canadian couple Stuart Robertson and Eva Birgitta Wannersjo of Toronto died when the Blue Hawaiian Helicopters Eurocopter EC-130 crashed into mountains above an elementary school and burned. They were on a sightseeing tour of West Maui and Molokai.

“The pilot's failure to maintain clearance from mountainous terrain while operating in marginal weather conditions, which resulted in the impact of the horizontal stabilizer and lower forward portion of the fenestron (tail rotor) with ground and/or vegetation and led to the separation of the fenestron and the pilot's subsequent inability to maintain control,” the report concluded to be the crash's probable cause. “Contributing to the accident was the pilot's decision to operate into an area surrounded by rising terrain, low and possibly descending cloud bases, rain showers and high wind.”

Nicole Bevilacqua Abel, 28, was a native of Murrysville, and her husband grew up in North Versailles. The couple worked as engineers at the Westinghouse headquarters in Cranberry.

She was a graduate of Franklin Regional High School and Penn State. He was a 2004 graduate of East Allegheny High School and a 2008 graduate of Grove City College with a degree in mechanical engineering.

The helicopter was engulfed in flames after crashing near Kilohana Elementary School. The school's principal said at the time that there had just been a heavy downpour and he thought the loud boom from the crash was thunder.

Blue Hawaiian Helicopters President Patricia Chevalier said in a statement that the company was studying the report and “taking the findings to heart to further improve our processes and procedures.”

A lawsuit filed by the family of a passenger against Blue Hawaiian was settled in March for an undisclosed amount, the Maui News reported.

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