Sonar helps find crash victims off Kauai

By Brooks Baehr - bio | email

HANAPEPE, KAUAI (HawaiiNewsNow) – The Kauai Fire Department used side scan sonar to help locate wreckage of a light sport aircraft and bodies of two people who were killed when the aircraft crashed into the ocean off the Southwest coast of Kauai Tuesday.

A conventional search using planes, helicopters, thrill craft, and boats to scour the water did not produce results. So Wednesday firefighters deployed their new side scan sonar device from a boat that repeatedly sailed through the crash site.

Late Wednesday afternoon, when it looked like the recovery effort may come up empty for a second straight day, the side scan sonar provided firefighters an unusual image on the ocean floor. Divers went down to check it out and found what they were looking for.

"Divers found the bodies strapped into the aircraft about 150 feet from shore in a depth of 50 feet," said Sarah Blane, Kauai County Spokesperson.

"This was also the county's first time using this sonar technology for a rescue and it certainly aided in the search today," Blane added.

Pilot Jim Gaither, 55, who owned Big Sky Kauai, and passenger Kim Buergel, 49, were flying the light sport aircraft Tuesday when at about 11:40 a.m. several kayakers saw what they described as an ultralight crash into the ocean.

Buergel was visiting Hawaii from Spokane, Washington. She worked for Monaco Enterprises, a fire and security alarm manufacturing company. She also spent time as a volunteer firefighter for the Millwood Fire Department.

"In a field in our department where we had very few women, I know that she was one of the only women that the boys club really respected and admired," said former co-worker Debbie Matkin by phone from Spokane.

"She was really nice and helpful," added neighbor Marge Batson.

The Federal Aviation Administration sent two inspectors from Oahu to Kauai Wednesday to investigate the accident. The National Transportation Safety Board will also be investigating.

The agencies will question eye witnesses, review company maintenance records, and are expected to recover and examine the wreckage for clues about what caused the aircraft to crash.

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