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NTSB: Lanai plane crash left 500-foot debris field

By Marcel Honoré

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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HonoluluHawaii wrote:
Too bad for this kind of an accident, as if we look at it from a microscopic analogous point of view, if we have flat tire, we will fix it before going full blast on our H-1, H-2, or H-3, because if we cause a multi-car accident, we will not live down the media coverage. Just leave it up to the experts to change a flat, as waiting an extra hour for the Freeway Service Patrol to show up will save all kinds of possible disaster, including suspended licenses, SR-21, etc. Back to Lanai, it would seem a possible maintennance error is something to look into. From now on, if we have pilots saying, "hey wait", let's check on this, we won't be thinking they're crying wolf, as it's always better to be safe than the alternatives. Condolences to the gone an their families.
on February 28,2014 | 12:16PM
GooglyMoogly wrote:
Or, y'know, wind.
on February 28,2014 | 05:17PM
entrkn wrote:
I never met him face to face but I used to speak with Dick over the phone sometimes as often as three or four times a week. He was pleasant and always very professional. As a Concierge on Maui since 1997, I had frequent dealings with Maui Air/Volcano Air and their pilots and their maintenance program were as good as it gets. They always kept their aircraft in top shape and I'm sure thats why Maui County used them so much. I used them to fly my hotel guests to see the active volcano on the Big Island and for private charters. I had the best tour imaginable of the volcano when it was active. My guess is that one of the engines failed right after take-off and Dick was trying to come back around and land and just ran out of airspeed and lift. I sincerely hope that Sheila, Dick's wife and partner, can keep the company together and operating and, if she reads this, that I am very sorry for her and the victims. Bill Entrekin
on February 28,2014 | 07:08PM
catii wrote:
Pilots do a walk-around on their plane before takeoff, as well as running through a fairly comprehensive checklist to test the engines & electrical systems. There's no reason to think this pilot did otherwise. However, mechanical & electrical aircraft systems do fail unexpectedly - it's certainly happened to me! - & unless the plane can be brought under instant control, especially during takeoff & landing, things aren't going to go well at all. Multi-engine aircraft are built so that they can fly on one engine, but takeoff is the most dangerous time for things to go wrong if it's an engine. So it will be interesting to see what the NTSB comes up with as the cause. Really too bad that we have three dead & two badly injured because of this incident, though. Congrats to the lawyer who saved the two injured passengers - true heroism.
on February 28,2014 | 03:07PM
serious wrote:
Correct, but the author mentioned that he could take off without the help of plane instrumentation--bunch of BS--night take off, no moon no horizon he has to go on instruments right away--been there, done it. But, let's not speculate--and a walk around-let's also admit, he brought the airplane in--it worked fine and the inspection--might have been a day ago!! How much weight was there--how was it distributed? That area is a hunting zone for the deer--no tower to check the runway--lot's of thing he inspectors to look at.
on February 28,2014 | 03:56PM
CUEBALL wrote:
I have flown many times out of Lanai in Piper Chieftains, Twin otters and 737s. At night it is necessary to be able to fly on instruments as there is usually very little or no visual reference at night even if there are no clouds. Clouds can be hard to see as well. It sounds like he was trying to fly visually in instrument meteorological conditions. It's a rookie mistake, but one of the most common causes of fatal crashes in General aviation. John Kennedy Jr.'s famous crash is an example.
on February 28,2014 | 04:29PM
st1d wrote:
been a long time since i did lanai. trying to remember, that runway has a dip in the middle, and flags at each end of the runway can indicate winds blowing in opposite directions at the same time, starting the takeoff against the wind, only to have the wind shift to tailwind at liftoff.
on February 28,2014 | 10:21PM
CUEBALL wrote:
Yes thats true, and clouds can sit just above the runway, because Lanai airport is 1300 feet elevation, pretty much invisible on a dark night. Landing is less of a problem because you have the runway light to orient yourself on approach. But even in completely clear weather you must be prepared to go on instruments at lift off, as someone else here pointed out. My advice is don't ride inter island on the small aircraft at night, unless you are feeling real lucky.
on March 1,2014 | 04:41AM
slim wrote:
I suspect the cold front moving in that day generated a micro burst or downward wind force that caused the plane to loose elevation rapidly and then a stall. I also suggest Maui County secure lodging and fly or Ferry their employees home in daylight hours. They were there for a meeting after COB, and though they have probably flown hundreds of time at night follow such meetings, there is no need to fly at night and spend that money when it is not as safe flying during the day when the pilot has better visuals. I am sorry for the loss of life, the injuries, and hope the families of the victims find solace in their loss.
on February 28,2014 | 09:12PM
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