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Missing pilot, passenger found safe in waters off Kona

  • COURTESY U.S. COAST GUARD

    Coast Guard and Hawaii Fire Department personnel stand with the mother of Sydnie Uemoto following her daughter’s rescue nine miles off Kona today. Uemoto and David McMahon were both rescued by a Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew following an expansive joint search by Navy, Royal New Zealand air force, U.S. Air Force and Coast Guard crews.

  • COURTESY U.S. COAST GUARD

    The mother of Sydnie Uemoto hugs Coast Guard crews following her daughter’s rescue nine miles off Kona today. Uemoto and David McMahon were both rescued by a Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew following an expansive joint search by Navy, Royal New Zealand air force, U.S. Air Force and Coast Guard crews.

  • COURTESY U.S. COAST GUARD

    The mother of Sydnie Uemoto checks on her daughter following her daughter’s rescue nine miles off Kona today. Uemoto and David McMahon were both rescued by a Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew following an expansive joint search by Navy, Royal New Zealand air force, U.S. Air Force and Coast Guard crews.

  • COURTESY U.S. COAST GUARD

    Coast Guard crews safely deliver David McMahon and Sydnie Uemoto to emergency medical personnel in Kona today, following their rescue nine miles off Kona. They were both rescued by a Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew following an expansive joint search by Navy, Royal New Zealand air force, U.S. Air Force and Coast Guard crews.

A Coast Guard helicopter plucked a pilot and his passenger from the ocean about 6 miles northeast of Kona at 11:35 a.m. today after their twin-engine plane ditched in the ocean Thursday afternoon.

“What a way to celebrate aloha Friday,” Coast Guard spokeswoman Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle, said of the relief in finding the two alive. “We all had big smiles on our faces in the office when we heard the news.”

The Coast Guard had been searching for a twin-engine Piper PA23, after the pilot reported engine problems before ditching with a man and woman on board. The Coast Guard confirmed that the pilot of the aircraft is David McMahon, 26, and the passenger is Sydnie Uemoto, who is in her 20s. Both are believed to be residents of Kona.

Paramedics met them at Kona airport and treated them for minor injuries, Molle said.

A Royal New Zealand Air Force P3K2 Orion plane, here participating in Rim of the Pacific military exercises, spotted debris that may have been from the missing plane at 8:19 a.m. today, 52 miles northwest of Kona.

The Coast Guard sent a ship to the scene to see if the debris was from the missing plane.

A tour helicopter later spotted wreckage and reported it to the Coast Guard, Molle said. A Coast Guard helicopter went to the wreckage location and spotted two people in the water wearing life jackets, she said.

“They had been attempting to swim to shore through the night,” Molle said.

It’s not yet clear what happened to them.

“A lot of times these cases don’t really end well,” Molle said. “When we have a happy ending what more could you ask for?”

Coast Guard Petty Officer Melissa McKenzie said they received information about 3:15 p.m. Thursday that McMahon reported an in-flight emergency to the Honolulu Airport’s control facility. Shortly afterward, they lost contact with the tower, she said.

“The plane no longer appeared on the radar,” she said.

The plane was reportedly traveling to Kona from Maui, with its last known position about 25 miles northwest of Kona, the Coast Guard said.

The sea conditions this morning at the aircraft’s last known position — 25 miles northwest of Kona — were not ideal: winds of 12 mph from the northeast with waves 2 feet or less and an east swell of 4 feet. Visibility was limited with haze and isolated showers.

A Navy helicopter from the USS Chung Hoon, also in the area for RIMPAC, and the Coast Guard cutter Galveston Island also helped with search efforts.

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The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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