By Brooks Baehr - bio | email
HANAPEPE, KAUAI (HawaiiNewsNow) – An ultralight "experimental aircraft" operated by a Kauai tour company crashed late Tuesday morning in the ocean off Hanapepe killing the two people on board.
Pilot Jim Gaither, who owned Big Sky Kauai, and passenger Kim Buergel of Spokane, Washington, were on the aircraft when it went down. About five hours into the search for survivors the Federal Aviation Administration informed Hawaii News Now Gaither, 55, and Buergel, 49, were presumed dead.
The first call for help came at about 11:40 a.m. Kayakers and several people on land had seen the ultralight plummet into the ocean.
The Kauai Fire Department, Coast Guard, Kauai County lifeguards, and civilians in boats hurried to the scene. They found some debris, but not the aircraft or its passengers.
"The passengers in the aircraft do wear life jackets as well as parachutes. So we are continuing to actively search," said Coast Guard Commander Amy Cocanour who was helping coordinate the search from Oahu.
Divers with the fire department searched the ocean floor approximately 60 feet below the surface, but found nothing.
The Coast Guard planned to continue the search until midnight, and return to the scene at first light Wednesday.
Gaither talked about his love for flying on a video posted on Big Sky Kauai's company web site.
"I've been in aviation for 33 years now starting off with my hang gliders, ultralights, microlites, (and) trikes. Anything I could pretty much get my hands on and get airborne with," Gaither said.
"I've been flying on the island of Kauai for three years achieving over 2,400 hour just on the island of Kauai flying thee ultralight aircraft. I feel actually better in the air than I do on the ground. God has left me with the passion for flying. Any time I'm on the ground I'm looking skyward wishing to be in the air. And when I'm in the air there's no place like being closer to heaven," he added.