By Brooks Baehr - bio | email
HANAPEPE, KAUAI (HawaiiNewsNow) – Witnesses who saw a light sport aircraft crash into the ocean Tuesday killing its pilot and passenger say the aircraft was flying as low as ten to 15 feet above the water.
Jim Gaither, who owned Big Sky Kauai, could have been flying low for the thrill. Or he may have been just over the water because he was experiencing some sort of mechanical problem. Whatever the reason for Gaither's low altitude, other pilots and flight instructors say flying so close to the water eliminates life saving safety nets.
"The lower you are flying, the less options you have for good landing areas," Tom Sanders of Paradise Air at Dillingham Airfield told Hawaii News Now.
Sanders flies the same model aircraft that Gaither and passenger Kim Buergel crashed in on Tuesday. Sanders said they have a seven to one glide ratio. In other words they move seven feet forward for every foot the fall. If the engine knocks out or there is some other problem at high altitude, the pilot can glide toward a flat surface to land.
If there is not a suitable place to glide to the ground, a parachute can be deployed and the entire aircraft and its passengers can float to safety.
"But the parachute is only going to work if you are 300 feet or higher," Sanders said.
"It's got a rocket so it is going to fire out quickly, but it needs 300 feet altitude and the reaction time that you've decided you want to go to that parachute system and pull the handle. The lower you go, the less likely you are able to use that third safety feature on this aircraft. The first one is they are strong. The second is there are very few moving parts, and the third one is you can land it with a parachute," Sanders explained.
Had Gaither's aircraft been higher, he may have had time to react and avoid hitting the ocean.
Sanders said in his opinion light sport aircraft are very safe, especially when pilots are conservative, exercise caution, do proper maintenance, and follow all manufacturer specifications.
Both the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the cause of the crash.