Father of pilot killed in helicopter crash seeks answers
By DAN COPP
It has been more than a month since his son lost his life when the helicopter he was flying crashed in southern Terrebonne Parish.
But Sammy Kawamura said he’s received no closure because many of his questions about the tragedy remain unanswered.
"I can’t wait a year and a half until the National Transportation Safety Board completes its investigation," Sammy Kawamura said during a phone interview from his Placentia, Calif., home. "If anybody saw the crash, I would like to hear about what they saw."
Matthew Masashi Kawamura, 26, of Enterprise, Alabama, was killed Feb. 27 when the Bell 407 helicopter he was piloting went down in the marshy waters of Bayou Barre, a waterway that feeds into a lake by the same name about 10 miles south of Montegut.
Members of the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office Water Patrol responded to the crash, which occurred shortly before noon. Investigators pronounced Matthew Kawamura dead shortly after recovering his body at the scene, authorities said.
Authorities said there were no other passengers on board the aircraft, which flew for Westwind Helicopters Inc.
Westwind, based in Santa Fe, Texas, provides personnel transportation for offshore oil and gas operations, charter services, and power line and pipeline patrols throughout the Gulf Coast. The company’s fleet is composed of Bell series helicopters such as the 206 and 407, the firm’s website says.
Westwind operates bases in Houma, Abbeville, Cameron and Venice, as well as Santa Fe and Rockport, Texas.
According to the NTSB’s preliminary accident report, the doomed flight originated from South Timbalier, a Gulf of Mexico oil platform. The chopper had just dropped off two passengers, neither of whom reported any flight anomalies.
After completion of the passenger flight, Matthew Kawamura was to return the aircraft to the Houma-Terrebonne Airport for a minor engine repair but never returned, the report said.
The report said Matthew Kawamura made no radio or distress calls prior to the crash. All of the aircraft’s major wreckage was found in 4-foot-deep water and was sent to Baton Rouge under the supervision of the NTSB.
During the examination, no mechanical anomalies were found with the helicopter’s airframe, drive system or flight controls, and no anomalies were detected in the engine, the report said.
Scheduled maintenance on the helicopter was also up to date, according to a review of the aircraft’s maintenance logbooks, the report said.
NTSB spokesman Terry Williams said aircraft crash investigations typically take 12-18 months. Investigators look at several factors when determining a crash’s probable cause.
"We look at the maintenance of the aircraft, we look at the pilot’s record, we look at weather conditions at the time of the accident and we also like to speak with any possible crash witnesses," Williams said. "We do a thorough examination of the aircraft including the engine to see if it gives any clues as to what may have occurred. Every investigation is different."
The preliminary report’s findings have yielded more questions than answers for Sammy Kawamura, who said his son was an exemplary helicopter pilot who had a passion for flying.
"I knew my son, and he was a good helicopter pilot," Sammy Kawamura said. "I just want to get closure to see if anyone saw what happened."
Not only was his son an accomplished pilot, he was also a beloved father and a genial human being, Sammy Kawamura said.
"Let me tell you something about people," he said. "There are a lot mean people out there. Even if some people act nice, in their minds they may not be. I’ve always told my son that every human being is built differently. If someone’s being mean to you, you have to let it go and treat that human as you would treat your father. You have to accept the way they are. That’s why he was such a happy-go-lucky guy because he would never let that kind of stuff bother him."
Matthew Kawamura also served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2007 to 2011 and worked as a flight instructor for Utah-based Upper Limit Aviation from 2013 to 2015. He flew for Westwind since July 2016.
"He always loved his job," Sammy Kawamura said. "He had a real passion for flying."