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Bodies recovered believed to be glider-crash victims


Divers recovered two bodies off Kauai yesterday, ending the search for the pilot and his passenger after a powered glider crashed Tuesday.

While positive identifications were not immediately made, officials said they believe the victims are Jim Gaither, owner of Big Sky Kauai, a powered-glider flight school, and passenger Kim Buergel, 49, a visitor from Spokane, Wash.

Divers recovered the bodies of a male and a female about 150 feet from the shore and in about 50 feet of water in the vicinity of Kauai Coffee Co. in Kalaheo about 4:50 p.m. yesterday. The area where the bodies were recovered is known as Big Flats, a fishing spot.

Kauai fire personnel detected irregularities in images from sonar used in the search yesterday, prompting divers to investigate.

A motor believed to be that of the downed aircraft was also located near the bodies but was not recovered. The aircraft is described as an Edge XT-912L with tail number N29EP. The aircraft was manufactured by Airborne Windsports Ltd.

Kauai Fire Chief Bob Westerman extended his condolences to the victims’ families. “Obviously this is a terrible loss for them. Hopefully, the recovery of the remains can provide some closure,” Westerman said in a news release.

An extensive search was launched after a kayaker reported a downed light sport aircraft at 11:41 a.m. Tuesday. About 70 personnel from the Coast Guard, Kauai Fire Department, Ocean Safety Bureau, Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Kauai Police Department were involved in the search. A command center was set up at Hanapepe Armory.

Earlier reports indicated the crash occurred near Glass Beach, but upon further investigation, authorities determined the site was slightly toward the east, about 200 yards from the shoreline in the area of the coffee company, where some debris from the aircraft was located, according to Kauai County spokeswoman Sarah Blane.

Gaither, 55, worked for Gerry Charlebois, owner of Birds in Paradise, a powered-glider flight school, as a certified flight instructor when he arrived in Hawaii in 2008 until he opened his own business.

Charlebois and Steve Sprague, owner of Kauai Aerosports, canceled all flights yesterday out of respect for Gaither.

Denise Sanders, owner of Paradise Air Hawaii on Oahu, described the powered-glider community as tight knit in Hawaii and across the country. Sanders, who knew Gaither, said there are six companies throughout the state: three on Kauai and one each on Maui, Oahu and the Big Island.

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