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Mainland News Outlets, Facebook Posts ID Some Victims of South Point Helicopter Crash

By Nathan Christophel
June 9, 2022, 12:49 PM HST
* Updated June 9, 3:29 PM
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Two mainland news outlets and two Facebook posts have identified some of the passengers involved in a helicopter crash Wednesday, June 8, near South Point on the Big Island.

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According to an article from The Chattanoongan in Chattanooga, Tenn., a Chattanooga auto dealer and two family members were among the six people aboard the Paradise Helicopters Bell 407 helicopter, operated by K&S Helicopters, when it crashed Wednesday. The news outlet identified Clay Watson and his daughters, Kennedy and Clayton Watson, as three of the five passengers.

According to Chattanooga news station WDEF-TV, Watson is president of the Mountain View Auto Group in Chattanooga.

The Chattanoogan article was attached to a public Facebook post by Teena Julian Renegar, who has had a friendship with a family member of the Watsons’ for many years.

“Asking for prayers for all those involved in the helicopter crash that happened in Hawai‘i. The father and his two daughters are from Chattanooga and one of the girls is in very serious condition,” Renegar said in her post Thursday. “Their grandmother is a very dear and special friend that Robyn, Bethany and I have had a friendship with for many years. Please take a minute and send up a prayer for the daughter that is very serious and for her family that is distraught and hurting.”

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Elle St. Charles Prime also asked in a public Facebook post Thursday for prayers for the Watson family.

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“Needing all prayers for the Watson family. A family friend, his two beautiful daughters and three others were in a helicopter crash while on vacation in HI,” her post said. “One of his daughters is still in critical condition last we’ve heard. Cannot imagine how scary this is for them right now. Please send them all your prayers during this time. Clay, Kennedy, Clayton and April, we are all thinking of you and are here if you need us at all.”

The crash happened just before 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. The tour helicopter crashed in an open lava field between Ranchos Subdivision and South Point Road. Two of the helicopter’s occupants were seriously injured. All of the patients were transported to Kona Community Hospital.

According to the Hawai‘i Fire Department, which extricated all of the victims from the crash scene with its Chopper 1 and 2 helicopters, the six people aboard the aircraft at the time of the wreck included three women, ages 18 and 19, and three males, ages 23, 48 and 54. The two most seriously injured were the 19-year-old woman and the 54-year-old man.

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The identities of the victims have not been officially released or confirmed by officials or the helicopter company.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have the names of those on board,” Hawai‘i County spokesman Cyrus Johnasen told Big Island Now on Thursday afternoon in an email. “Also, we are unaware of their current condition. Once we transport them to Kona Community Hospital, (the hospital assumes) responsibility for the patients. The pilot was reported to have sustained serious injuries when crews arrived. He was transported to KCH in serious, yet stable condition.”

Johnasen said the county has been in contact with Paradise Helicopters and is hopeful the pilot and passengers will make a safe recovery.

“We’re also hopeful that through adequate investigation, they will be able to assess the cause of the crash and implement strategies to avoid another in the future,” he said. “Like everything, this is an opportunity to learn and grow.”

“We are saddened to hear of the helicopter crash that happened late yesterday afternoon,” a statement from Mayor Mitch Roth said. “Our hearts are with the families of the individuals on board as we pray for a safe recovery for all. We’d also like to thank our Hawai‘i Fire Department for their timely response and quick thinking, which resulted in the safe transport of all patients to the Kona Community Hospital.”   

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash.

“The helicopter departed Kona International Airport at approximately 5:01 p.m. HST on a sightseeing tour,” Jennifer Gabris with NTSB media relations, told Big Island Now on Thursday morning in an email. “The crash occurred at approximately 5:29 p.m. HST. The helicopter was scheduled to return to Kona International Airport. NTSB is not traveling to the scene at this time. An investigator will travel to Hawai’i to examine the wreckage once it is recovered.”

Gabris said a preliminary report, which includes all information learned to date, is expected to be published within 15 business days after the wreck.

K&S Helicopters released a statement Wednesday night following the crash.

“At this time, K&S Helicopters Emergency Response Plan has been activated and the full resources of the company are being mobilized to respond to the incident,” the statement said. “K&S Helicopters is cooperating with all authorities involved, and is also working to assist those affected.”

“The care of our passengers, crew members and their families is our highest priority” Calvin Dorn of K&S Helicopters said as part of the company’s statement.

The full statement can be found on the Paradise Helicopters website.

State Sen. Chris Lee, who represents Senate District 25, comprised of Kailua, Lanikai, Enchanted Lake, Keolu Hills, Maunawili, Waimanalo, Hawai‘i Kai and Portlock on O‘ahu, also issued a statement Thursday regarding the crash.

“There have been over 20 deaths in helicopter crashes and dozens more injured in recent years,” Lee said in the statement. “Some employees at these companies have said pilots are still being told to fly in unsafe situations. And while some companies go above and beyond to ensure safety, others continue to cut corners in an industry that communities around the state have raised significant complaints about as helicopters buzz over residential neighborhoods with greater frequency than ever. This kind of dangerous operation cannot be tolerated.”

Lee also talked about Senate Bill No. 3272, which would require helicopter companies to report where, when and who they are flying, and establish a new helicopter safety working group to make recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration and local authorities for changes to how helicopter tours operate.

“Safety and respect for local communities cannot be sacrificed just so helicopter companies can pack in extra flights to boost profits,” Lee said in the statement.

Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel has more than 20 years of experience in journalism, starting out as a reporter and working his way up to become a copy editor and page designer, most recently at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo.
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