Friends rally to support mechanic's pledge

June 6, 2013

Brant Swigart vowed to make good on the losses, and risked his livelihood with his public confession that his oversight led to the forced landing of a Robinson R22 Beta in downtown Honolulu on May 8. Friends and strangers are chipping in dollars, hoping to raise $120,000 or more through an online donation drive to help Swigart make good on his pledge.

“Taking responsibility and being honest and doing these things, it’s so rare to see somebody do that that I think people want to make an effort” to support that, said Keith Hashimoto, a longtime friend of Swigart and also a professional pilot and mechanic.

Hashimoto created the online donation page, collected nearly $4,000 by June 6 toward a $120,000 goal. The final cost of repairs and replacements remains unknown, and much depends on salvaging parts from the Robinson. While pilot Julia Link kept cool under pressure and found a relatively clear street in a crowded city with seconds to act, the Robinson’s skid caught a Mazda sedan in the final seconds, leaving both significantly damaged.

Link, a pilot for Mauna Loa Helicopters with fewer than 400 hours logged at the time of the incident, was unhurt, as was her passenger; by finding the only spot within reach that was clear of people and (most) obstacles, Link was able to prevent Swigart’s error from becoming a catastrophe. Swigart said, in interviews with local media and AOPA, that he should have spotted the improper installation of the mixture control cable before signing off on an overhaul, and that he also should have noticed that a spring designed to force the mixture to full rich in case that cable snapped was reversed. When the cable attached to the bell crank broke, the spring cut off fuel to the engine entirely, the opposite of its designed intent.

Hashimoto, also an airframe and powerplant mechanic and pilot, said he will have his company pitching in on the effort to salvage parts and assemble a replacement for the Robinson. At least one other mechanic has also volunteered, and Hashimoto said many, many others are spreading the word about the fundraising effort through social media, crowdsourcing an effort to help Swigart make good. Thanks to local media and AOPA coverage, at least one other donation arrived by a more traditional route: a $500 check mailed to the helicopter company. Social media has generated responses from across the country.

“It’s just amazing how far the reach is,” Hashimoto said.

Even before Hashimoto set up the donation page, another friend had put out a call on Facebook, commending Swigart for his decision, and the risk he is taking.

“He wrote, ‘we need more people like this in the world,’” Hashimoto said. “That’s exactly my sentiment, too.”

Hashimoto, who holds an airline transport pilot certificate and is well-versed in the ways of the FAA, said he advised Swigart against making a public confession.

“I just was scared for him, is what it was,” Hashimoto said. “I still am pretty scared for him, and his business, and his family, really.”

Jim Moore

Jim Moore | Online Associate Editor, AOPA

AOPA Online Associate Editor Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot who enjoys competition aerobatics.