The U.S. Coast Guard and the Maui County Fire Department continued to search for two people today from a helicopter that went down Monday night off the northwest coast of Molokai.
At 7:26 p.m. Monday, watchstanders received a call from the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport control tower that they had lost communications with a four-seat Robinson R44 helicopter with two occupants, according to the Coast Guard.
The helicopter, with tail number N820DF, is operated by Mauna Loa Helicopters. A male student and male instructor reportedly left Honolulu for a day trip Monday and were returning to Oahu when the control tower lost communications.
Ben Fouts of Mauna Loa Helicopters said the student has been taking flight training with Mauna Loa for about a year, and the instructor has been employed there for almost two years.
“We pray for their safe return,” Fouts told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in a phone interview.
Coast Guard spokeswoman Petty Officer 3rd Class Amanda Levasseur said that an HC-130 Hercules airplane and MH-60R Navy Seahawk helicopter of the Maritime Strike Squadron 37 were conducting training at the time of the call and were diverted to the area.
The Navy helicopter remained at the scene until the Coast Guard’s MH-65 helicopter arrived. The Coast Guard’s cutter Galveston Island is enroute to the search area today to relieve the Coast Guard cutter Ahi.
The cutter Ahi will remain in the area and both cutters will alternate in the active search for the two missing men. The Coast Guard also said the Navy Seahawk helicopter from Kaneohe Bay will return to the search area at 4:30 p.m. today.
Crews spotted debris with light sticks in the water about a mile and a half off of the northwest side of Molokai.
Weather conditions in the search area are challenging, with 30 mph winds and 12- to 15-foot seas.
Maui Fire Services Chief Edward Taomoto said the department launched its Air 1 helicopter today to assist in the search. Ground crews are also searching the shoreline.
This is the second Molokai helicopter crash in less than a year. On Nov. 15, prominent Honolulu attorney Gary Galiher crashed his private helicopter while flying from Honolulu to his east Molokai property. Galiher and his passenger, Hawaii real estate agent Keiko Kuroki, were killed. The wreckage was discovered on a remote mountain slope, less than a mile from Galiher’s home. Weather conditions were windy and rainy at the time.