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Helicopter drops airplane during salvage operation off Maui


WAILUKU » An airplane that made an emergency landing near a Maui shoreline was lifted by helicopter in a salvage attempt but dropped in the ocean when the aircraft experienced a problem, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

The Piper Cherokee at about 5:38 p.m. Sunday on a flight from Honolulu made an emergency landing 50 yards from Waiehu Beach. The pilot and three others were not injured.

FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said by email today that Pacific Helicopters on Tuesday night attempted a recovery of the Piper Cherokee but ran into a problem and dropped the airplane about a mile offshore.

“The FAA is looking into the circumstances behind the decision to drop the aircraft,” he said.

The decision on what to do with the airplane, he said, is up to the owner, the owner’s insurance company and possibly the Coast Guard.

Witnesses told the Maui News that trade winds were blowing 20 to 25 mph during the salvage attempt and the damaged airplane appeared to be unwieldy.

The helicopter “was really revving up,” said Jacque Longsworth. It lifted the aircraft, but the “plane was almost too heavy for the helicopter … The plane dropped into the ocean.”

Her husband, Larry Longsworth, was going for his camera when the airplane fell but he saw it afterward looking like “a shark’s tail out there.”

Ivan Bersamin lives on a street that runs parallel to the beach and went outside to watch the salvage attempt.

“It was really windy,” he said. “The airplane started bobbing left and right, and it was affecting the flight of the helicopter … It looked like the helicopter was having a hard time.”

The damaged airplane was twisting as the helicopter flew toward the water.

“The plane was all over the place,” Bersamin said. “We were kind of worried. We thought the helicopter pilot was losing control and was going to crash in the ocean.”

Bersamin said the airplane fell about 100 yards offshore.

“I saw a big splash,” he said. “It hit the water and went down.”

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