POSTED: 06:48 a.m. HST, Dec 12, 2013
LAST UPDATED: 04:01 p.m. HST, Dec 12, 2013
The pilot of the single-engine commuter plane that crashed into the sea a mile off Kalaupapa Wednesday said the aircraft suffered "catastrophic engine failure," and a federal transportation official says it may not be recoverable.
The National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the crash of the Cessna plane, said rough seas may make it nearly impossible to lift the nearly 42-foot single-engine Cessna from the sea.
The Cessna Caravan 208B went down off Molokai's north shore around 3:30 p.m., killing state Health Director Loretta Fuddy. Eight other people, including its pilot, were aboard the Makani Kai aircraft and survived. Only two, who are believed to be visitors, remained hospitalized in Honolulu today.
Eric Weiss, NTSB spokesman in Washington, D.C., said an investigator stationed in the islands is looking into the crash. An initial report could be completed in 10 to 14 days.
However, Weiss said rough seas in the area may prevent the 11-year-old aircraft from being salvaged from the ocean.
Makani Kai Air owner Richard Schuman told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser this morning that the pilot said the plane suffered a "catastrophic engine failure" over the ocean.
The pilot reported hearing a bang before the engine failure and then had everybody put on life vests, Schuman said.
Schuman declined to identify pilot, whom he has known since 1996, but said he flew for Aloha Airlines before it went out business in 2008 and other air carriers in Hawaii.
"He joined us full time a year ago," Schuman said.
Schuman said he would like to recover the Cessna, but that decision will be made by other officials.
"If it is humanly possible," Schuman added, "I would like to see the aircraft recovered."
The Rev. Pat Killilea, pastor of St. Francis Church at Kalaupapa, said he didn't see the plane hit the water, but watched rescue operations from Kalaupapa's airport where the survivors were taken.
Killilea said the pilot swam to shore to get help for the passengers floating offshore.
"He (pilot) had been able to get the passengers out of the plane wearing their life vests. However, once in the water they were beginning to drift apart and so he decide to swim to shore to get help," Killilea said this morning in a phone interview. He added, "There was blood on his (pilot's) chest when he arrived at the airport."
Also, while at the airport, Killilea said he spoke with crash survivors including Deputy Health Director Keith Yamamoto; Rosa Key, a National Park Service administrator at Kalaupapa; and Key's husband, Jake. The names of the pilot and other passengers have not been released.
Killilea said Fuddy's body was taken to the settlement's care home where he held a prayer service for her. Her body was later taken to Molokai General Hospital.
Killilea described the scene at the airport as "hectic but calm" as nurses and people from settlement attended to the eight survivors.
"That's what happens here," Killilea said. "Everyone was on board to help."
The plane is now under the jurisdiction of the NTSB and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Schuman said he flew to Kalaupapa Wednesday and then returned to Honolulu to personally meet with the survivors of the crash.
The company's daily flights to Kalaupapa -- two from Oahu and one from Molokai Airport -- will continue even though Makani has lost its only backup plane, Schuman said. Before the crash the air carrier had three in its fleet, using one as a backup. Makani Kai took over flying to Kalaupapa nearly three years ago.
The aircraft had a valid operating certificate and the company said it had never had an accident in its more than 20-year history.
Fuddy, 65, was at Kalaupapa for annual meeting of Hansen's disease patients. By law, the head of the Health Department, which Fuddy was named to lead in January 2011, also serves as the mayor of Kalawao County. The Hansen's disease settlement on Kalaupapa is still run by the health department, though only a few former patients continue to live there.
Janice Okubo, health department spokeswoman, said Yamamoto is still recuperating from the crash and didn't report to work today. In the interim until Gov. Neil Abercombie appoints Fuddy's replacement, the governor's chief of staff will oversee the activities of the department.
The Coast Guard said it received the distress call at 3:27 p.m.
Rescue swimmers from two Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopters were deployed, pulling three passengers from the water. Maui Fire Rescue retrieved the other passengers.
Three people were transported by Dolphin helicopter crews to Honolulu for emergency medical services. One was flown directly to an Oahu hospital. Two of them -- a 74-year-old woman and a 39-year-old man -- were transported by Emergency Medical Services ambulances from Makani Kai's Honolulu Airport headquarters to Queen's Medical Center in stable condition. Two people, Yamamoto and the pilot, were taken by another Makani Kai plane to Honolulu. The pilot drove himself to Queens to be examined. Yamamoto was driven home.
Three other passengers remained on Molokai and were treated and released, authorities said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.