An emotional Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa broke down several times during a news conference, saying "the entire county mourns" the loss of two county workers and a pilot of a private charter who died in private plane crash on Lanai Wednesday night.
Three other Maui County employees, including a deputy corporation counsel who is credited with saving his two colleagues, survived the crash that occurred just after the twin-engine Piper Navajo Chieftain left the Lanai Airport at 9 p.m. The crash occurred a mile southeast of the airport in a former pineapple field. The two workers who died were women, while the three who survived are men.
Maui County officials said the names of the dead will not be released until police have completed their investigation.
During a Wailuku news conference with other county officials late this morning, Arakawa broke down several times trying to hold back his tears. "This tragedy stunned our community," he said, noting that it was like a loss of a family member.
"We’re a very, very small community," he added. "Everybody knows each other. We work with each other. A loss like this basically affects everyone."
Arakawa described one of the two women who worked in planning department as "a bright, young planner," while the other was long-time career civil servant.
Arakawa said Maui Planning Director Will Spence and other members of his staff flew to Honolulu to comfort the three men from who remain in critical condition in Queen’s Medical Center with burns and broken burns. One of the victims has burns covering 25 percent of his body, a Maui official said Thursday.
As Arakawa spoke on Maui, a van and a Lanai police vehicle arrived at the crash site to take away the bodies.
Both the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board have sent investigators to the crash site.
Maui Assistant Fire Chief Lee Mainaga said the crash site is so remote that a private contractor, Goodfellow Brothers, was called in to cut a road through the field to the mangled aircraft.
"The grass in the area is 3-feet tall," Mainaga said.
Mainaga said the wreckage was engulfed in flames when fire and police arrived at the scene 12 minutes after Lanai police dispatch received the distress call at 9:23 p.m.
Michelle McLean, the county’s deputy planning director, said: "We’re devastated." She said there are only 64 people who work in the planning department and only 14 in the long-range division where the two women worked.
She said this was the fourth or fifth trip her staff had made to Lanai to meet with the Lanai Planning Commission recently. The jurisdiction of Maui County extends to the islands of Lanai, Molokai, and Kahoolawe, in addition to Maui.
The majority of meetings are held in the evenings to make it easier for Lanai residents to attend, McLean added.
McLean said her staff has the option to either fly by charter aircraft to Lanai or take the ferry from Maui.
Maui Deputy Corporation Counsel Moana Lutey said her agency is proud of the "really heroic" actions of the deputy corporation counsel who pulled the two employees out of the burning wreckage. "We’re thankful," she said.
Lutey said 35 people are assigned to her office. "It’s been a rough day. Our office is somber," she said.