Dennis Fujimoto  /  AP
Investigators examine the wreckage of a crashed tour helicopter on March 8, near Princeville Airport in Princeville, Hawaii. The helicopter crashed on the island of Kauai, killing four people, including the pilot, and critically injuring three, officials said.
updated 3/14/2007 6:49:56 PM ET 2007-03-14T22:49:56

Gliding through the clouds, Ain McKendrick spotted humpback whales just below the surface of the ocean, photographed the lush green mountains and gawked at hidden waterfalls.

He wasn't going to miss an opportunity to see Kauai from above despite two helicopter crashes on the island's North Shore in four days.

"We knew about the accidents ... and we felt safe," said McKendrick, a 36-year-old technology worker from San Jose, Calif.

Helicopter tour companies on Kauai reported a few cancellations and a slight slowdown in reservations after the two fatal accidents, but said tourists still want to fly.

"We'll still take them even after the accidents," he said. "It's the only way to see the island," said 79-year-old Ray Taulbee, of Birmingham, Ala., a regular visitor to Hawaii.

Taulbee wasn't alone in his enthusiasm to fly.

The lobby at Will Squyres Helicopters was crowded with customers and Island Helicopters sent up its normal 16 flights.

Celeste Viquelia, a saleswoman for Island Helicopters, said, "It's a shock people go through and then it's OK."

McKendrick, a recreational pilot, and his girlfriend were among the first people to take a tour from Heli-USA Airways, which resumed flying Monday for the first time since one of its aircraft crashed Thursday at Princeville Airport. The crash killed four people including the pilot.

On Sunday, a chopper from Inter-Island Helicopters spun out of the sky just miles away at a YMCA camp in the remote Haena area.

Some tour operators estimate one in every 10 visitors to Kauai last year took a helicopter tour. That's roughly 120,000 tourists taking a helicopter tour.

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But some visitors say they're reluctant to fly with five fatal tour helicopters crashes on Kauai in less than four years, killing a total of 18 people.

"Now I certainly won't go," said Charles Phillips, who lives on Oahu.

Phillips, 53, already had concerns about the safety of the helicopter rides, but told his wife after Thursday's crash that they should consider a flight with the odds against a second crash anytime soon.

Phillips said he got rid of the idea after Sunday's accident that killed one passenger and left three others in critical condition.

The heavily advertised tours are one of the most popular tourist activities on Kauai and the only way to see most of the island in an hour.

Eight companies on the island take passengers to see the filming locations of "Jurassic Park" and "King Kong," the Na Pali coastline and Waimea Canyon. Extinct volcanos, pristine rain forests, rainbows and waterfalls are also often on narrated tours.

"We will continue to operate and give people an unforgettable experience," said John Powers, executive vice president of Heli-USA, which flew 60,000 people last year. "The industry will move on but right now it's also our priority to show compassion for those recovering."

Powers said Heli-USA have received hundreds of e-mails from past customers, many commenting on positive experiences flying with pilot William Joseph Sulak, who died in Thursday's crash. Many others said they'd fly again, he said.

Tour operators are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, which passed tougher regulations in 1994 after 49 people were killed in accidents over 12 years in Hawaii.

Ian Gregor, spokesman for the FAA, said despite the recent crashes, the accident rate is not on the rise. There have been 27 air tour accidents, killing 31 people since the regulations required all operators to follow the same rules.

But recently the National Transportation Safety Board recommended to the FAA to increase surveillance of the air tour operators, their maintenance policies and flight scheduling procedures.

NTSB investigators this week are examining the wreckage of the helicopters to determine what caused the crashes.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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