Federal Investigation Into Helicopter Business Ongoing

Nine months after the FBI and other federal agents seized helicopters, flying certificates and logbooks from Hansen Helicopters Inc. in Guam and Saipan, their investigation continues.

In a decision yesterday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Joaquin Manibusan said the federal government has shown a “compelling interest” that the full search warrant for the raids be kept under the court’s seal of confidentiality.

“The government has demonstrated that there is an ongoing criminal investigation in this matter and that premature disclosure of the entire search warrant application and affidavit would likely jeopardize the progress of said investigation,” the judge said.

However, the judge granted the release of parts of the search warrant application to Hansen, but information considered sensitive to the ongoing criminal investigation had been blacked out.

The partly blacked-out search warrant and a redacted version of a special agent’s affidavit were released to the plaintiff, but the documents are not accessible to the public, the judge decided.

The FBI executed raids in October and November last year and seized several of Hansen’s helicopters, airworthiness certificates and registration certificates for 15 aircraft on the business’ fleet.

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 Hansen’s filing in the federal court.

The Federal Aviation Administration prohibits an aircraft owner from operating aircraft without airworthiness and registration documents, so the 15 helicopters at issue have been grounded since the FBI started conducting their search.

Attorney David Lujan, on behalf of Hansen, has asked the court to order an evidentiary hearing and to try to get the company’s aircraft and certificates released.

Stephen Leon Guerrero, an assistant U.S. attorney in Guam, wrote in a Jan. 9 letter to Lujan that the investigation was 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.

In addition, “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.”

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