A salvage dive team has started to recover a plane from the waters off Kalaupapa on the same day that the pilot of the Makani Kai Air Cessna Caravan talked for the first time about the crash landing in the ocean on Dec. 11.
Makani Kai owner Richard Schuman said he hopes the Cessna’s engine can be recovered, but the plane can’t be pulled out of the water in one piece.
At a news conference this morning, Clyde Kawasaki, the pilot of the plane that crashed in the water off Molokai’s Kalaupapa Peninsula said today that he gave up the plane’s last life jacket to a passenger before jumping in the roiling water.
"I said ‘whatever’ and I walked into the ocean hoping to swim for a floating cooler, but I never reached it," said Kawasaki, 60.
When he grew weary of treading without a preserver in the water, he clung to a passenger.
Kawasaki, a former Aloha Airlines pilot, spoke to the media at the Honolulu International Airport headquarters of Makani Kai Air.
One passenger, state Health Director Loretta Fuddy, 65, died following the crash, and seven other survived without any major injuries when Kawasaki glided the plane to a water landing.
"It was devastating to say the least," he said of learning later that Fuddy had died. "I could not understand how that could have happened….everybody seemed fine when we got out of the airplane."
The last time he saw Fuddy, she seemed fine, he said.
Kawasaki sustained a gash to his head during the crash. After making sure that all passengers had exited the plane, he joined them in the waves. Shortly thereafter, Kawasaki saw that a plane had spotted the wreck. Kawasaki told media today that he then knew a rescue would soon be under way.
Josh Lang, a helicopter pilot who was flying his private plane to Maui with his girlfriend, said it was "pure luck" they were in the area. "It looked like most people were waving and it looked like they were OK," Lang said.
His girlfriend, Jaimee Thompson, said they felt obligated to stay until help arrived, to give the people in the water hope that they would be rescued.
Maui officials have not yet released an official cause of death for Fuddy, who witnesses say became unresponsive while awaiting rescue. An autopsy was conducted Friday. Her body was returned home to Oahu on Monday morning. Services are set for Saturday.
In the aftermath of the crash, Kawasaki reported that the Cessna Grand Caravan had "catastrophic engine failure" shortly after takeoff on Molokai.
If the engine is recovered, it will be sent to manufacturer Pratt & Whitney for analysis.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.