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Helicopter Crash in a Volcano

In the Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii

November 21st, 1992

Pushing the Envelope...

Craig Hosking is a maverick.  He was the youngest licensed helicopter pilot ever, as he received his rotary wing license on the very day of his sixteenth birthday, and parlayed his dreams of flight into a highly successful career flying aerial work for television series, and feature films alike. 

So when the call came one day from Paramount Studios to take two freelance cameramen to shoot film of volcano eruptions for a mystery movie called "Sliver," which was scheduled to be released the following summer, he thought little of it.

Paramount also hired Mike Benson, a freelance cinematographer, and Christopher Duddy, a freelance camera technician, to film the volcano. 

The Bell 206B-III helicopter, tail number N789N, was equipped with 2 cameras and was doing filming runs of a volcano vent crater and its associated smoke plume for the motion picture.  There is no active lava flow in the Pu'u O'o vent of the Kilauea Volcano, but a pool of lava glows in a 120-foot deep pit on one side of the crater floor.

The Sound of Trouble...

According to Hosking, on the third pass over the crater, he noticed the main rotor output decreasing, and saw the rotor caution light illuminate. "As I was flying that fateful pass, just about two seconds before arriving over the center of the crater, we experienced a governor linkage failure,"

Quickly, he lowered the collective, but inadvertently entered the volcano smoke and steam cloud. "We've got a problem," Hosking announced to the cameramen, who were both did not hear the low rotor warning tone, and perceived no change in engine sound during the descent.

After turning, Hosking exited the cloud and autorotated the helicopter down to the crater's bottom. "During the autorotation, I could've gone over to the outside of the crater, but it was so steep that it would've been a fatal rollover."  The main rotor struck the shear rock wall during the flare and separated from the helicopter.

In hindsight, Hosking recalls: "You don't have time for emotion," he said. "You have ten seconds. Here's how it goes: 'Okay, we have a problem. I have to get the RPMs up. Now we're descending. We can't land outside. We have to land inside. That's not a good place to go, but it's our only choice. I see a flat spot, but I have get by those rocks, and I have to get away from the hot lava. RPMS are good. Speed is good. Here comes the ground.' And you're down."

The helicopter's crash site was inside the volcano, nearly 150 feet below the rim.

Hell on Earth...

The three filmmakers spent hours choking on poisonous gas from the volcano before the two cameramen decided to try to climb out by themselves, after it became apparent that rescue wasn't imminent.

But after Duddy and Benson became trapped on a high ridge, Hosking managed to radio for help by jury-rigging the radio to a spare battery, and a local pilot made a heroic flight into the volcano's core, and quickly rescued Hosking.

It took nearly two days and an improvised rescue effort organized by the film company to retrieve Duddy and Benson from their plight.

One of the cameraman, Christopher Duddy, had reached the lip of the volcano at 2:30 P.M. on Sunday, 27 hours after the crash.

When It Rains...

But efforts to rescue the other cameraman, Michael Benson, from a Kilauea Volcano crater in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park had been delayed by heavy smoke, rain and fog.  Benson said he imagined he saw Pele, the volcano goddess of legend, looking back at him from across the crater. "I told her that she was not going to take me," Mr. Benson said in an interview with the New York Times after rescue. "I actually got up and screamed that at her."

A break in the weather let a helicopter, piloted by Tom Hauptman, fly into the crater and drop a basket attached to a 150-foot rope, according to Donna Cuttone, a ranger at the park. Benson was pulled out of the vent at 10:45 Monday morning, and taken to a hospital in Hilo, she said.

Mike Benson was stuck about 60 feet below the rim of the 600-foot-high crater, said Richard Rasp, a spokesman for the park. According to Rasp, rescuers at the edge of the rim had been unable to see Benson because of the fumes and steam rising from the volcano.

Taking Care of Business...

The NTSB determined the probable cause of the accident was, "the pilot's intentional flight in and near a volcanic gas cloud which induced a partial loss of engine power due to a lack of combustible oxygen in the atmosphere."

Paramount Studios publicly praised Hosking for "a remarkable job in landing the craft so all three were able to walk away with cuts and bruises."

The story of this crash was featured in an episode of the Discovery Channel television series "I Shouldn't Be Alive".

Ironically, the volcano scenes ended up being cut from the final release of the production of Sliver.

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