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Flotation devices ruled out as cause of Kauai helicopter crash

LIHUE, Hawaii --Investigators have determined the flotation devices on the Heli-USA Airways helicopter that crashed last week, killing four people, were deployed after the aircraft hit the ground and likely didn't cause the accident.

The helicopter appeared to have taken a sudden, nose-down decent into the Princeville Airport after its pilot reported trouble with the aircraft's hydraulics, said Brian Rayner, an investigator for National Transportation Safety Board. Rayner said parts of the hydraulic system were sent to a lab for testing.

The pilot had planned to perform a run-on landing by bringing the A-Star near the ground in a forward speed and sliding on its skids, he said. But a witness told investigators that the aircraft tipped forward and crashed on its nose.

A preliminary report on Thursday's crash should be completed as soon as next week, he said.

The six passengers were made up of three couples, each with one partner dying in the crash.

The passengers killed were John O'Donnell, of East Rockaway, N.Y.; Teri McCarty of Cabot, Ark., and Margriet Scholtz of Santa Maria, Calif. The hospital said survivors Cornelius Scholtz is in serious condition, but withheld the conditions of Veronica O'Donnell and James McCarty.

The O'Donnells came to Hawaii after their friends and family bought them the trip as a surprise for their 25th wedding anniversary. The McCartys were on vaction, leaving their close-knit Arkansas town. The Scholtzs were on a delayed honeymoon after getting married 11 months ago in South Africa.

The pilot, William Joseph Sulak, was Heli-USA's lead pilot who came to Hawaii four years ago after working as a air ambulance helicopter pilot.

A separate investigative team has begun probing the cause of Sunday's crash when an Inter-Island helicopter crashed at a YMCA camp on the island's north shore. The wreckage was moved to Lihue Airport on Tuesday for further examination.

Divers recovered some parts of the tail rotor and attached parts Monday, Rayner said. Witnesses say the parts fell off into the ocean after they heard a loud bang.

"Engine noise increased significantly one said it was like a car with a very bad muffler, loud," Rayner said.

Inter-Island has suggested a bird might have hit the Hughes 500, but Rayner said he found no evidence of a bird strike.

The swirling helicopter hit tree limbs and went through a fence as it landed in an open field near the beach.

One passenger was killed and three were injured. The pilot, Donald Torres, suffered minor injuries and was treated and released from Wilcox Hospital.

Michael Gershon, 60, of Walnut Creek, Calif., died in the crash. The three other passengers including Dania Hansen, 60, of Los Altos, Calif., who is in serious condition at Wilcox Hospital. Douglas Barton, 60, who is in fair condition, and Judy Barton, 51, who is in serious condition, both of Newport, N.H., were flown to The Queen's Medical Center for treatment.

According to friends and co-workers, Douglas Barton suffered a broken arm and other injuries. His wife suffered a spinal injury. The couple was in Hawaii to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary.

"She's been with us for 23 years and is an absolute gem and a friend," Bob Wilkie, the president and CEO of Sugar River Savings Bank, told WMUR-TV in Manchester, N.H.