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9 killed after skydiving plane crashes near Dillingham Airfield

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Video by Bruce Asato / basato@staradvertiser.com
Nine people are dead after a twin engine aircraft crashed in a fiery heap near Dillingham Airfield, Hawaii Department of Transportation officials said Friday night.
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Nine people on a skydiving tour aboard a twin-engine plane died Friday evening in a crash on Dillingham Airfield.

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2019 June 21 CTY HSA PHOTO BY BRUCE ASATO basato@staradvertiser.com Remnants of an aircraft carrying 9 people lays on the ground near a fence that surrounds Dillingham Airfield in Mokuleia, just off Farrington Highway, Friday, June 21, 2019.
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Firefighters gathered Friday night on Farrington Highway near the scene of the plane crash.

Nine people died in the fiery crash of a twin-engine airplane on a sunset skydiving tour at Dillingham Airfield in Mokuleia Friday evening.

Honolulu Fire Department Chief Manuel Neves said that when crews arrived the plane was engulfed in flames and wreckage was lying at the airfield’s fence line away from the runway.

Fourteen fire trucks and other HFD units with 39 personnel were dispatched to Dillingham at 6:24 p.m. The fire was brought under control 20 minutes later, fire Capt. Kevin Mokulehua said.

Neves said the names of the passengers are known but were not being immediately released. Some surviving family members were at the airfield tower, he said.

The Hawaii Department of Transportation, which operates the airfield under a lease from the U.S. Army, was the first to verify the nine fatalities via social media.

“With extreme sadness HDOT reports there were 9 souls on board the King Air twin-engine plane that went down near Dillingham Airfield with no apparent survivors,” officials said in a tweet.

DOT spokesman Tim Sakahara later confirmed that the plane was a Beechcraft 65 King Air that crashed on the airfield property soon after takeoff.

He said preliminary reports indicated that six on board were employees of Oahu Parachute Center, and the three others were customers of the company.

Sakahara said after 10 p.m. that the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board would be investigating and the airfield was closed until further notice.

Honolulu Emergency Services Department officials said they received a call at 6:26 p.m. and that EMS personnel “assisted with the death pronouncements of nine people” involved in the crash. They did not immediately release the gender or ages of the victims.

Christopher Richardson, 50, a skydiver with nearly 2,000 jumps under his belt, said he learned of the crash when someone called him asking if he was OK. The Aiea resident and skydiving coach said he immediately drove to the scene.

He said he thinks he knows at least five of the skydivers and the pilot, but was unable to confirm that.

“I’m just raw,” Richardson said of his emotions, knowing that at least some of the dead were his friends.

Richardson, an electrician, said it was likely full of fuel as it was about to take off for a sunset skydive. He said skydives at sunset are common for the company.

The crash left the bodies “horribly burned and unrecognizable.”

From viewing the scene through the chain-link fence, he speculated that the crash occurred midfield and the plane was heading northeast.

He said the aircraft’s owner, Oahu Parachute Center, is one of three skydiving companies based at Dillingham Airfield.

On its website, Oahu Parachute Center described its King Air 90 aircraft as the fastest skydiving plane in Hawaii. The website says safety is the company’s top priority.

The fire department’s Air 1 helicopter conducted an aerial search of the site, looking for debris or any survivors.

Neves said the debris field was relatively small — about 50 feet by 50 feet.

He said investigators were still gathering information about the details of the flight.

The National Weather Service reported showers and light and variable winds in the vicinity of Dillingham Airfield.

Honolulu police received the initial report at about 6:20 p.m.

Police closed Farrington Highway in both directions fronting the airfield for hours, backing up traffic, before authorities started to contraflow the traffic.

Harold Ross, 34, was on his way to pick up his niece from nearby Camp Erdman, when the accident occurred.

He said he was one of the first motorists to be stopped when they closed off the road to traffic and noticed the smoke.

“Sad nine people died,” he said.

He said the numerous school buses were taking 160 students to Camp Erdman.

The buses were among scores of vehicles stopped along the highway Friday night. People were parked along the roadside.

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