KALAELOA (HawaiiNewsNow) - Jose Manzano, the pilot who ditched a small plane with four passengers on board in waters off Oahu last month, says it was a busted engine, not a fuel problem that sent him, his two friends and their baby into the ocean.
Manzano said he must have practiced the scenario 20 or 30 times, but he never thought he would actually have to use it. The newly licensed pilot has only 75 hours of flight time, but he has 16 years in the Army. He says his military training, along with his flight training, are the reasons they all survived.
"We were having a nice flight, nice weather, we were flying back and about 4,500 feet, 43 minutes into the flight, I lost engine power," said Manzano.
He glided the single-engine aircraft for about 12 minutes before splashing into the water.
"We hit the water soft, we looked around, I shook his head, I said, 'Hey, we made it, we're alive,'" Manzano said.
Immediately, he said water started flooding into the plane.
"That's when I said, 'Hey on the count of three, we got to get out of this aircraft.' So the mother gave the baby to her father, the father grabbed the baby, I said, 'One, two, three,' and I opened the doors and got out. And instantly, it started nosing down," he said.
Manzano didn't have time to put a life jacket on himself. So he had to tread water for an hour.
"We had two life vests, the mom and dad had life vests. So every 10 to 15 minutes they gave the baby to the other one, they passed the baby back and forth."
Manzano says the sun had already set and it was getting dark. But finally seeing the Coast Guard helicopter was like a miracle unfolding right before his eyes.
"They must have maybe circled five or six times looking for us. Turn around, turn around, and every time they turned around, they made a smaller circle, searching, searching, and we realized the only working light was submerged underwater," he said.
Manzano is talking about the light on the back of the woman's life jacket. Since she was holding her baby, she was tilted back and it was submerged. The Coast Guard didn't see it until she repositioned herself so that the light pointed skyward.
Manzano was shirtless and barefoot when he touched ground at the Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point. Turns out that was the result of his Army training. He used his shirt and shoes and fashioned them into a floatation device. Manzano says if it wasn't for that training, he would not be alive today. Manzano said that day makes him appreciate life more.
"You don't think about little things anymore, you don't sweat the little stuff, you don't lose a moment to say, ‘Hey I love you.'
Since the incident, he says everyone is doing fine and their lives are pretty much back to normal. The baby, Ariana, will be celebrating her second birthday this month. Her parents are also planning a baptism for her and will be naming Manzano her godfather, thanks to his heroic actions.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are still investigating.