HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The National Transportation Safety Board is taking the lead on the investigation into the cause of a fighter jet crash off Honolulu that seriously injured a pilot Wednesday.
A military spokesman said the pilot, identified as 47-year-old Matt Pothier, was a civilian contractor flying a British-made Hawker Hunter aircraft in the Sentry Aloha military exercises.
He was rescued and brought to shore, where he was hospitalized in serious condition.
On Thursday morning, his wife said he was in good spirits and was going into surgery.
She declined a formal interview, but added that other pilots stopped by Pothier’s room to wish him well.
The crash happened just before 2:30 p.m., about three miles south of the Reef Runway at Honolulu’s airport.
Following the crash, outbound flights from the airport were halted for about 20 minutes.
The Sentry Aloha exercises were also temporarily suspended for the rest of the day, but resumed Thursday. Shortly after the crash, a parasail operator rescued the pilot and he was then picked up by a Coast Guard vessel.
Mack Ladner, of Extreme Parasail, was the good Samaritan who jumped into the water to help save the pilot.
“When I got into the water, I was asking him, are you OK? And he said yeah, my back hurts from the compression," Ladner said. "He had a little bit of blood coming out, I think it might have been from the impact because he was going pretty fast.”
Witness Nedra Muir-Lowery said they heard a “loud boom” just before the pilot ejected.
"Then we saw his parachute come out and his plane go straight into the water and basically nosedive into the water,” Muir-Lowery said.
Her boyfriend, Dennis Alston, called what he saw “unbelievable.”
"I’ve never been that close. I knew the plane was low. But it kept getting lower and lower and then it actually hit the water and the impact was crazy,” said Alston.
Witnesses fishing nearby said they saw the Hawker Hunter starting to fall shortly after takeoff.
“After the pilot ejected, the plane went down in a big way,” said Brendt Chang. “The Coast Guard has been doing maneuvers here. They were doing maneuvers anyway. They were on top of the pilot within two minutes.”
Chang said there was lots of fuel in the water after the crash, but very little debris.
Mark Neumann, owner of Hawaiian Parasail, said the plane crashed near one of his boats in the water.
Two people were in a parasail at the time, and the crash came too close for comfort, he said.
“My captain and crew thought it was going to hit the parachute,” he said. “It went by and right after it went by them, the pilot ejected and the plane crashed into the water real close to our boat.”
He said none of his crew members or customers were injured.
The plane was owned by Airborne Tactical Advantage Company, which is a civilian “tactical airborne training organization." Authorities said the Navy contracted with ATAC as part of the Aloha Sentry exercise.
ATAC spokesman John Zentner said they’re also investigating what might have gone wrong.
“For first 24 hours here, our company’s focus has been on the safety and well-being of the family,” he said. "We reached out to offer support to the pilot’s family and are working with relevant authorities to determine cause of crash, but cannot speculate at this time as to the cause.”
Rescuers, including the Coast Guard and members of the Honolulu Fire Department, remained at the scene of the crash into the late afternoon. The Coast Guard is currently maintaining a 300-yard safety zone perimeter around the crash site amid the ongoing investigation.
The Hawaii Air National Guard hosts Sentry Aloha. Some 800 people and 30 aircraft from nine states are participating.
The last time a military jet crashed off Honolulu was in 2008. Back then, it was a Hawaii Air National Guard F-15. The pilot was able to safely eject.
This story will be updated.