In the final moments of her life, Hawaii Health Director Loretta Fuddy clung to the hand of her deputy after a small plane taking them back to Honolulu crashed in the ocean off the island of Molokai.
In the water, Fuddy held hands with deputy director Keith Yamamoto as he tried to help her relax, said the Rev. Patrick Killilea, who consoled Yamamoto after the ordeal.
"He recounted how he said he helped Loretta into her life jacket and he held her hand for some time," the priest said. "They were all floating together and she let go and there was no response from her."
The crash occurred when the single engine of the 2002 Cessna Grand Caravan failed soon after it took off from Molokai and made its turn toward Honolulu, said Richard Schuman, owner of Makani Kai Air, operator of the plane.
Schuman said the pilot did his best to get the plane down safely and keep the passengers together in the waters off Molokai. Asked how they survived, he responded: "Will."
"There’s only one engine on that plane and when it quits on you, you just have to deal with it in that moment," he said.
Life jackets were instrumental in saving the lives of people on the plane, said Coast Guard Lt. Kevin Cooper, who helped coordinate the rescue effort from Oahu.
"In a survival situation like this, we do encourage people to stay together," he said.
Other details remained sketchy today on how the 65-year-old Fuddy was killed and how the others survived.
Schuman said he did not yet know why the engine failed because he has not been able to see the plane. The aircraft had no previous problems, he said.
The NTSB had no records of accidents for Makani Kai Air dating back to 1962, while the FAA had records of only two minor incidents that resulted in no injuries.
In 2012, a piece of trash got caught in a helicopter causing the pilot to abort takeoff. In 1998, a pilot heard a noise in the main rotor and landed in an open field with no injuries.
Associated Press writers Oskar Garcia and Audrey McAvoy contributed to this report.