East Hawaii News

Maui Chopper Pilot Admits Bringing Deer to Big Island

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A Maui helicopter pilot who made a daring 1992 rescue of a cameraman trapped in a volcanic vent has pleaded guilty to illegally transporting axis deer to the Big Island.

Prosecutors said Thomas Leroy Hauptman, 63, also flew mouflon cross-bred sheep from the Big Island to Maui.

Hauptman’s sentencing has been set for Sept. 18 before US District Judge Kevin Chang. Hauptman has offered to provide 500 hours of helicopter service to the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Research Corporation of the University of Hawai`i as part of his punishment, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported today.

According to the newspaper, Hauptman said he flew the animals between the islands three years ago at the request of a friend. Hauptman said he did not know that they would be used for hunting and thought they would be penned.

He transported three deer to the Big Island and about six sheep to Maui.


Hauptman is cooperating in the federal investigation into how the deer made it onto the Big Island, his lawyer said in court.

Although a state law was enacted recently making interisland transport of feral deer a petty misdemeanor, Hauptman was prosecuted under the federal Lacey Act. He faces up to a year in prison, fines of up to $100,000 and one year of supervised release, the Star-Advertiser said.

A spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service told Big Island Now that the investigation into the matter continues and another person involved in the case, 53-year-old Jeffrey Scott Grundhauser of Maui, is scheduled to appear in federal court on Thursday.

Earlier this year the state began a program using sharpshooters in an attempt to eliminate the deer population on the Big Island. The presence of the deer, which have caused an estimated $18 million in damage to farms and ranches on Maui, was confirmed on the Big Island a little more than a year ago.


The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust had offered a reward of up to $2,500 for information leading to the conviction of anyone responsible for the release of deer on the Big Island.

Hauptman was the pilot of a helicopter that flew into the Pu`u `O`o crater 20 years ago to rescue a passenger of a helicopter that had crash-landed not far from a lava lake inside the vent.

The helicopter was carrying a two-person camera crew shooting scenes for the movie “Sliver” when the aircraft’s engine was damaged by the volcanic fumes.

The pilot was rescued by a Hawai`i Fire Department helicopter a few hours later, but the two cameramen had already left to try to scale the vent’s 150-foot walls.


One of the cameramen managed to climb out the crater on his own the following day but the other became stuck part way up the slope. Two days after the crash, Hauptman managed to hover over the crater and the man was able to crawl into a basket suspended underneath the helicopter.


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