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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.

Saturday, July 26, 2014, 4:39 p.m.
 

A report identifying the pilot as the likely cause of a deadly Hawaiian helicopter crash is bringing some closure to family members, according to the lawyer for one family.

The pilot's flying too close to the mountains during inclement weather was the likely cause of a sightseeing helicopter crash that killed all five people aboard on Nov. 10, 2011, the National Transportation Safety Board determined in a final report published Friday.

Pilot Nathan Cline, 30; 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.

“Michael Abel and his wife Nicole, they were innocent passengers and their families have suffered quite a bit ... from this horrific event,” said Mark Grace, attorney for David and Marcia Abel, Michael's parents. “They are pleased that (the report) finally came out. It brings some sort ... of closure to what happened.”

Michael Abel, 25, a North Versailles native, and Nicole Abel, 28, of Murrysville were married atop Mt. Washington in Pittsburgh five days before boarding the 45-minute aerial tour over Molokai to see the island's sea cliffs and Hawaii's tallest waterfall while on their honeymoon. The couple worked as engineers at Westinghouse headquarters in Cranberry.

John Gismondi, attorney for Bruce and Cheryl Bevilacqua, Nicole's parents, said he was not surprised by the report's conclusion.

“We knew all along that weather was an issue,” Gismondi said. “It's been a very, very long wait for the family. ... The reality is that the report coming out doesn't change the depth of the human tragedy involved.”

Gismondi said he's not sure the report provides closure for the Bevilacquas, but “it's another piece that can be put to rest.”

Both attorneys said that although the report took about 3 12 years to be completed, it was very thorough.

The families have wrongful death lawsuits pending in U.S. District Court against Blue Hawaiian and the manufacturer of the helicopter.

“We're cautiously optimistic that Blue Hawaiian at this point will do the right thing and try to bring this matter to an end quickly so (the families) don't have to suffer with protracted litigation,” Grace said. “When families have to go through that, it's like opening the wound every time.”

The report found the pilot failed to clear the mountainous terrain while operating in marginal weather conditions, causing the tail rotor and horizontal stabilizer to hit the ground and/or vegetation, which led to the pilot's loss of control.

“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,” the report of probable cause stated.

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or kandren@tribweb.com.

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