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NTSB: Lanai plane crash left 500-foot debris field

By Marcel Honoré

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 03:31 p.m. HST, Feb 28, 2014


Two National Transportation Safety Board investigators arrived Friday morning at the scene of Wednesday night's fatal plane crash in Lanai to inspect the wreckage -- and begin what will likely be a lengthy process of determining what went wrong moments after takeoff.

The Maui Air charter plane crash killed three people -- the pilot, Richard "Dick" Rooney, and Maui County employees Kathleen Kern and Tremaine Balberdi -- and injured three others. 

The twin-engine Piper Navajo Chieftain crashed at a low angle, leaving an approximately 500-foot debris field in the grasslands of central Lanai, according to investigators' descriptions provided by NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson. The plane's fuselage, which includes the cabin, was at the far end of the debris field, Knudson said.

The agency has no record of transmissions between the plane's pilot and air traffic controllers, Knudson said. The pilot, Knudson said, had filed what's called a "visual flight rules" flight plan, meaning he could take off without the help of plane instrumentation.  

Crews are working to remove the plane's engines Friday and bring them to a separate site somewhere on the islands where they'll be torn down for examination, Knudson said. The rest of the wreckage should be removed from the crash site for examination Saturday.

The West Coast-based duo of NTSB investigators will likely wrap their on-site work Saturday and remain on the islands several days after that, Knudson said. NTSB expects to have a preliminary report on the crash in the next 10 days. Fatal crash investigations average about a year to complete, Knudson said. 

"There's a lot of material to get to before we get to the probable cause," he said. 

The NTSB's investigation will include the pilot's flight experience, medical history and background in the 72 hours leading up to the crash, as well as the plane's maintenance history and the weather records at the time of the crash.






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