A sightseeing tour over the lava fields of Kilauea on Father’s Day turned deadly for a Pennsylvania family when the helicopter they were riding in crashed yesterday, killing them and their pilot. While the victims’ bodies have been recovered, federal investigators now face a race against time, as an active lava flow threatens to bury the crash site.
Penn. television station WGAL has identified three of the victims as a local family. They are 13-year-old Nicole Laughman, her mother Jody, and her step-father Jim Thomas. Nicole was a seventh grader at Bermudian Springs Middle School. The family lived in East Berlin, located about 15 miles west of the town of York.
The helicopter, a Hughes 500, was operated by Tropical Helicopters, a sightseeing helicopter company operating out of Hilo and Kona. The pilot’s name has not been released.
According to officials at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the helicopter crashed at around 9:45 a.m. at an elevation of about 600 feet, approximately two miles inland from the shoreline where tourists gather to watch lava enter the sea.
Park officials confirmed today that lava is moving toward the crash site, but have not yet determined how far away the lava flow is, or how long the lava would take to reach it.
The pilot reported engine trouble and issued a mayday alert before the crash, according to an representative from the Federal Aviation Administration quoted in today’s Star-Bulletin.
Notably, the crash temporarily halted a separate search for a missing Indiana man.
Tim Lynch, 44, left his hometown of Newburgh, Ind. on June 1, but did not return as expected on June 6. He never checked out of his hotel room, and his rental car was found at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, according to WTVW Fox 7 News. At least 30 park staffmembers and volunteers are involved in the search.