A Guam-based helicopter transport company whose Guam and Saipan helicopters and flying certificates were seized in a raid late last year had two fatal, maintenance-related crashes about two decades before the raid.
Hansen Helicopters Inc.’s attorney, David Lujan, wasn’t immediately available for comment yesterday. Lujan had filed court papers earlier this week indicating the business wants an evidentiary hearing and to obtain a copy of search warrants the FBI executed in October and November last year to get an idea of the reason for the raids.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office, which signed off on the search and seizure of several of Hansen’s helicopters, airworthiness certificates and registration certificates for 15 aircraft on the business’ fleet, also was unable to comment if the fatal crashes from many years ago had to do with what sparked the ongoing investigation.
The FBI also seized three helicopters at a Hansen facility in the state of Georgia and a helicopter registered in the Philippines, for which Hansen was providing maintenance, according to the business’ filing in the federal court.
The Federal Aviation Administration prohibits an aircraft owner from operating the aircraft without airworthiness and registration documents, so the 15 helicopters at issue have been grounded since the FBI conducted the search between October and November last year, according to Lujan, in a motion filed in court earlier this week.
Lujan is asking the court to order an evidentiary hearing and to try to get the helicopter businesses’ aircraft and certificates released.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office neither confirms nor denies an ongoing criminal investigation to the public.
However, Stephen Leon Guerrero, an assistant U.S. attorney in Guam, wrote in a Jan. 9 letter to Lujan that no search warrant information would be turned over to Hansen because the matter continues to be part of an ongoing criminal investigation.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office described the investigation as being in a pre-indictment phase, which means neither the business nor people involved in the business had been charged in court.
The National Transportation Safety Board has two records of fatal crashes involving Hansen.
On June 20, 1997, one man died and another was seriously injured when a Hansen helicopter crashed in the Pacific Ocean.
The pilot involved in the crash had not attended any factory training courses on the specific helicopter involved in the accident, according to the NTSB.
'Non-standard parts' found
And “non-standard parts were found on the inside” of what the NTSB report called a trim switch.
The examination and subsequent disassembly revealed that the switch had been disassembled and then reassembled, according to the NTSB.
“The switch is not a repairable item,” according to the report. “No repair manual or spare parts programs exist for this switch.”
The helicopter in the 1997 accident was used to spot tuna for a fishing ship called M/V Granada. The location of the accident site was about 2,000 miles southeast of Guam, according to the NTSB.
In another fatal accident, on Aug. 26, 1996, a Hansen helicopter crashed in waters near Guam, resulting in one death, according to NTSB records. The probable cause of the accident, according to the NTSB in a report, was the “loss of tail rotor control due to improper maintenance.”
The search last year confiscated Hansen logbooks, according to documents the company filed in federal court, in an attempt to get its helicopters and other property released by federal authorities.
Company 'economically injured'
“Hansen has already been economically injured by the seizures and would be irreparably injured by denying return of the registrations and certificates, as the FAA prohibits an aircraft owner from operating the aircraft without such documentation, which means that the 15 helicopters at issue have been grounded since the seizures,” according to Hansen.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed to release the logbook for one aircraft.
“However, any other logbooks, airworthiness certificates and registration that were seized,” cannot be released because of the ongoing criminal investigation, according to Leon Guerrero.
“We will not agree to release a copy of the affidavits in support of both the Guam and CNMI Search Warrants,” Leon Guerrero wrote to Lujan. “This is a criminal matter in which there is an ongoing investigation. Such production will be made once this criminal matter is filed in court.”