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Victims in small plane crash on Lanai are identified

By Craig Gima, Gregg K. Kakesako, Leila Fujimori & Rosemarie Bernardo

LAST UPDATED: 09:21 p.m. HST, Feb 27, 2014

The three people killed and three others injured in Wednesday night's crash of a Maui Air twin-engine airplane a mile southeast of Lanai Airport were identified on Thursday.

Sources confirmed that the dead are: the pilot, Richard "Dick" Rooney, and Maui County Planning Department employees Kathleen Kern and Tremaine Balberdi.

The five passengers on the plane were Maui County workers, two of whom were critically injured and one seriously injured. Four were members of the planning department and one was an attorney with the corporation counsel's office.

Kern served as project lead and senior planner for the Lanai Community Plan. Balberdi was a Planning Department worker.

The two critically injured are Doug Miller, a planner on the Lanai Community Plan team, and Mark King, a geographic information systems analyst on the team. The county has confirmed James Giroux, who was seriously injured, is a deputy corporation counsel.

Friends and family members gathered at the Balberdis' home in Kahului to console her husband, George, and their only daughter, Malia.

Tremaine Balberdi worked as a secretary at the Planning Department of 23 years. "She just loved what she did, " said her husband of 32 years. "My wife was a very, very giving person, sweet personality.".

George Balberdi recalled how he spoke to his wife at 9:03 p.m. when she said, "We're about to leave. See you soon. I love you."

Balberdi headed to the commuter terminal at about 9:15 p.m. and waited for his wife.

He waited there until 10 p.m. and his wife and other passengers aboard the charter had yet to arrive. He called his daughter and asked if her mother had called. The daughter screamed and said a plane crash occurred on Lanai.

Balberdi said he heard there were three men that were medevaced to Queen's. At 1:30 a.m. Thursday, they called the hospital and asked if there were any women admitted to the hospital from the plane crash. The answer was no.

""That's when we knew she didn't make it," he said.

Federal officials, meanwhile, are sending two investigators to the former pineapple field on Lanai where the plane crashed Wednesday night.

The Maui Fire Department said they received a 911 call at 9:23 p.m. from the deputy attorney, who said he had been in a plane crash. The deputy attorney pulled two people away from the fire because they could not move on their own, according to a county news release.

The three survivors were flown to the Queen's Medical Center for treatment of burns and other injuries.

Firefighters responded to a call of an airplane down at Lanai Airport, but found nothing at the airport and had to search the area before finding the crash scene, which was at a site known as Miki Basin, about a mile southeast of the airport. They said it took about 12 minutes to get to the site.

Firefighters put out a small brush fire ignited by the plane wreckage, which was engulfed in flames when they arrived, officials said. 

"Maui County is in mourning," Mayor Alan Arakawa said in an early-morning posting on his Facebook page expressing his condolences.

Alberta de Jetley, Lanai Times publisher and editor, told The Maui News that the crash site was off a dirt road near the Maui Electric Co. power plant. She said that the terrain is mostly flat grassland and fallow pineapple fields.

The group had been on Lanai for the planning commission meeting, which was scheduled to run from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. Maui County chartered a return flight on Maui Air which left at around 9:05 p.m.

Arakawa said that interisland travel is common for Maui County officials. "We are a county of four islands. We have to make sure all the islands have representation," he said at a press conference late Thursday morning.

He said the county uses Maui Air charters "quite a bit."

According to Maui Air's website, the company flies twin-engine, 10-seat, Piper Navajo Chieftain airplanes.

The company was established on Maui in 1993 and had a "perfect safety record," according to the website. The company has three planes and also conducts sightseeing flights to Kilauea on the Big Island.

Ian Gregor, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman, said the plane that crashed was a twin-engine Piper PA31 Navajo.

FAA records indicate the aircraft was manufactured in 1975 and is owned by Maui Aircraft, located in Kahului. Its airworthiness certificate was issued in 2002.

Lanai map

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and the FAA were headed to the scene Thursday morning, officials said. Maui police were also investigating. Police at the scene had secured the area. As of early afternoon, the federal investigators had not arrived.

This was the second fatal plane crash in three months in Hawaii.

In December, state Health Department Director Loretta Fuddy died after a Makani Kai Air Cessna Grand Caravan crashed in the ocean off Kalaupapa. Eight other people -- including the pilot -- survived. The Honolulu-bound commuter plane crashed about a half-mile off Molokai's north shore after taking off from Kalaupapa.

Two months earlier, a Mokulele Express Cessna Caravan made an emergency landing on a Maui highway. The aircraft lost engine power after departing from Kahului Airport for Kamuela. The plane, with two pilots and eight passengers, landed safely on Piilani Highway in Kihei just after 7 p.m. on Oct. 20, authorities said.

No one was injured.

There have been other fatal crashes in Hawaii involving Piper Navajo Chieftains.

On Aug. 25, 2000, one person was killed and eight people injured when a Big Island Piper Navajo Chieftain crashed into Hilo Bay.

On Sept. 29, 1999, a Big Island Air Tour Piper Navajo Chieftain crashed on the slopes of Mauna Loa, killing the pilot and nine passengers.

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salsacoquibx wrote:
All these small plane crashes lately makes me not want to fly to Lanai on a weekly basis. Makes you think...
on February 27,2014 | 04:33AM
gobows wrote:
catch a boat
on February 27,2014 | 08:19AM
Grimbold wrote:
TVnews overkill. Everything gets rehashed and branched out ten times over.
on February 27,2014 | 04:07PM
serious wrote:
"A chartered flight?" There are scheduled flights--oh, my mistake--it's only taxpayer money!!!
on February 27,2014 | 05:31AM
copperwire9 wrote:
Please shut up.
on February 27,2014 | 06:24AM
scuddrunner wrote:
copperwire please step away from the keyboard. The voices you hear are in your head. Very sad about the plane wreck. I doubt if weather had anything to do with the accident. Weather was vis was 10 miles, winds were NE at 24 kts gusting to 29 kts, right down the runway. Hopefully the pilot took off into the wind.
on February 27,2014 | 02:40PM
Workingrl wrote:
Have you checked the flight schedules? There are no regularly scheduled late evening flights into or out of Lanai. Only other option would've been to spend the night in a pricey lanai hotel at much greater cost
on February 27,2014 | 06:41AM
ryan02 wrote:
That's what I was thinking too. Resorts on Lanai are expensive, it was probably cheaper to charter the flight home. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out. People died in this crash while doing their public service jobs, and some posters have to make a looooooong stretch to try to turn it into someone it's not (an issue of tax dollars). Sheesh.
on February 27,2014 | 06:58AM
serious wrote:
One schedules the meetings around the flight schedules--at least private companies would. Saves money!! Also that's an uncontrolled airport--operations at night are probably not recommended.
on February 27,2014 | 08:30AM
copperwire9 wrote:
Your compassion for the families and friends of the dead and injured is simply overwhelming.
on February 27,2014 | 09:23AM
scuddrunner wrote:
coperwire, Why are you on line at 10:23 in the morning? Do you have a job? Maybe you should make better use of your time?
on February 27,2014 | 02:43PM
al_kiqaeda wrote:
It hasn't bee released yet but it was a large public meeting which was held in the evening so I'm guessing the public could attend after work.
on February 27,2014 | 09:39AM
kahu808 wrote:
These meetings are designed to allow for public input, which is what the public demands. Private companies are not responsible to the public. The analysis of the crash can come later but for now, let us have aloha to the victims and their families.
on February 27,2014 | 09:41AM
username_required wrote:
Your top end resides in your bottom end's crevice.
on February 27,2014 | 07:14AM
aomohoa wrote:
What a stupid comment considering 3 people just died.
on February 27,2014 | 08:12AM
kahu808 wrote:
You obviously have no clue of the challenges faced by a county that covers four islands.
on February 27,2014 | 09:38AM
KKawa wrote:
I don't understand why we operate planes that are 40 years old. Don't do that with taxis or cars.
on February 27,2014 | 05:47AM
HIE wrote:
There are a lot of cars on the road that are 40 years old. Go to any classic car cruise and see a lot of 65' and 67' models that are nearly 50 years old.
on February 27,2014 | 06:41AM
localguy wrote:
Not to mention many of the owner/operators are older than the cars. hehehe Jay Leno has an extensive antique car collection, all in perfect running condition.
on February 27,2014 | 06:51AM
NanakuliBoss wrote:
Tata, you guys go drink coffee over there. Go shoosh.
on February 27,2014 | 04:12PM
bullturd wrote:
Yes but they are not "Air Worthy"
on February 27,2014 | 09:04AM
localguy wrote:
KKawa - Even if a plane is 40 years old, the FAA requires it meet all manufacturers maintenance requirements, owner to maintain all service records. It must be worked on by mechanics with an FAA Airframe & Powerplant (A&P) license, inspected by FAA trained aviation maintenance personnel. Pilot must meet all FAA flight requirements. So age is not the issue. Wait until the investigation is over before you jump to shibai conclusions. Oh, as for old cars, there are many on the road as antiques. Where are you living, in a cave?
on February 27,2014 | 06:50AM
sluggah wrote:
B-52's were put in commission in 1959. Still in use. DC-3's are still in use, born, 1930's. The FAA requires the planes to be inspected and shipshape.
on February 27,2014 | 10:31AM
LRC wrote:
Plane built in 1975?!?!! No plane that old belongs flying in the air! My prayers goes out to their families, and survivors.
on February 27,2014 | 06:59AM
Mavis wrote:
Every airplane used in commercial service is inspected every 100 hours of operation at a minimum; anything found amiss is repaired or replaced, which means an "old" airplane is actually much safer and "newer" than you think. When you compare the number of traffic fatalities to those of plane crashes, you'll realize the only reason it's "news" when a plane crashes is because it is so rare. What's sad, other than of course the tragic loss of life, is that so many people use such reporting as another reason to fear flying.
on February 27,2014 | 07:39AM
honomukeiki wrote:
The Air Force flies aerial refueling tankers that were built in the 1960s. The last of the B-52s was built in the late 1960s.
on February 27,2014 | 08:18AM
HawaiiCheeseBall wrote:
Condolences to those lost in the crash and their families. Hate hearing about these kind of crashes where people are just basically doing their jobs and tragedy strikes.
on February 27,2014 | 07:24AM
loquaciousone wrote:
Funny how this was on HLN news at 4 in the morning but when I turned onto the local KGMB news at 4:30 they were more interested in reporting on the weather and traffic. Just shows the sorry priorities that local news have.
on February 27,2014 | 07:25AM
gobows wrote:
where's the video conferencing technology?
on February 27,2014 | 08:23AM
CloudForest wrote:
Best comment on here. A video conference would have saved 3 souls and 3 people with major injuries from all of this tragedy, and it would have saved the taxpayers money.
on February 27,2014 | 09:08AM
glenn57377 wrote:
Video conferencing is the way to go. The technology has come a long way. Of course, their duties may have required them to be on-site. The military uses video conferencing a great deal - because it is low cost and makes sense.
on February 27,2014 | 09:49AM
mauiray wrote:
technology is here, unfortunately so are the same old same old.....
on February 27,2014 | 10:03AM
ryan02 wrote:
Admittedly I'm just guessing here, but doesn't the Department of Planning deal with things like controlled land development, traffic issues, preservation of open spaces, etc.? They may need to physically SEE the island that is being PLANNED. Makes sense, right?
on February 27,2014 | 11:27AM
inverse wrote:
The meeting was scheduled from 5:30pm to 8:30pm. Sunset is around 6:30pm so how much of the island would they SEE in their meeting? Gobows made an excellent comment and should seriously be taken into consideration for these type of meetings.
on February 27,2014 | 12:13PM
ryan02 wrote:
The article says the commission met at 5:30 p.m.. We don't know what time the employees arrived on Lanai (at any rate, I'm guessing it was sometime prior to 5:29 p.m.). They could have had most of the day to view the areas.
on February 27,2014 | 03:14PM
prayers to the people who perrished, life will and must go on, aloha to those.............................mahalo for their service to us
on February 27,2014 | 09:38PM
Hapa_Haole_Boy wrote:
For the record: This wouldn't have happened had there been an inter-island ferry (such as yes, Super Ferry). Yes, boats sink, but just saying. Condolences to the families, so tragic.
on February 27,2014 | 10:25PM
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