Friday, Aug 22, 2014    

Victims in small plane crash on Lanai are identified

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

POSTED: 10:30 p.m. HST, Feb 26, 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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