EXCLUSIVE: Pilot describes discovering Moloka’i plane crash

EXCLUSIVE: Pilot describes discovering Moloka’i plane crash 6pm Update
Published: Dec. 17, 2013 at 8:31 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 17, 2013 at 10:21 PM HST
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© Josh Lang & Jaimee Thomson
© Josh Lang & Jaimee Thomson
© Josh Lang & Jaimee Thomson
© Josh Lang & Jaimee Thomson

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Josh Lang and his girlfriend Jaimee Thomson just happened to be at the right place at the right time.  The couple was on the way to Maui last week Wednesday and decided to fly along the north shore of Moloka'i, it's that choice that lead them to be the first people who spotted the downed Makani Kai aircraft.

They called for help and stayed on the scene until rescuers arrived.  Hawaii News Now learned about the reluctant heroes important role in the crash rescue from fellow pilots who credit them with likely saving lives.

Officials say moments after the Makani Kai Air Cessna Grand Caravan took off from Kalaupapa Wednesday, December 11, 2013, it experienced "catastrophic engine failure" and crash landed into the water just a few hundred yards from shore.

Lang and Thomson were on their way to visit friends in Maui and had contacted the Moloka'i tower for clearance just before 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.  They say the tower operator asked if they were able to hear an "ELT" or Emergency Locator Transmitter. They tuned into the signal, but it was faint so they say they began searching for it and scanning the area for wreckage.

The couple says they reached Kalaupapa about five minutes later and spotted something in the water off the North-West tip of the peninsula near the beginning of runway 5.

"As we approached the object in the water, we quickly realized that it was an aircraft and flew down lower to look for people in the water.  We verified the tail number of the aircraft and that there were nine people in the water," the couple wrote in a statement provided to Hawaii News Now.

Lang and Thomson say they contacted the Moloka'i tower and landed back at the airport to see if anyone was available to help, but say no one was around.

"We decided it best to get back in the plane and fly over the people in the water to try to give them some comfort that they were not alone and were going to be rescued.  During this time we made many low passes over the crash site and people, and watched the Cessna Grand Caravan aircraft slowly sinking," the statement goes on to say.

While the couple circled above, they say they watched passengers drift west in the current and waves as one person managed to swim to shore.

According to Lang and Thomson, about 15 minutes before the first rescue crew arrived the aircraft completely submerged and sank.

"All that was left was a faint fuel trail, some light debris, and now 8 bodies scattered in the water roughly one mile from where the plane had sunk," the couple said.

They say around 4:30 p.m., about an hour after they first spotted the plane, a Navy helicopter arrived.  According to Lang and Thomson, once they showed rescuers where to go, they left to avoid being in the way.

Other pilots Hawaii News Now spoke to say if not for the couple's efforts, the passengers likely would have been treading water much longer and they may not have been located until after dark.

All 9 people on board survived the crash.  65-year-old Loretta Fuddy, the Hawaii Health Department director, died in the water after the crash.  An autopsy is pending.

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