Plane drops during salvage operation

A Piper Cherokee aircraft that made an emergency landing Sunday in brush near the shoreline in Waiehu briefly took flight again around 6 p.m. Tuesday when a helicopter attempted to haul it away, witnesses said.

With trade winds blowing at an estimated 20 to 25 mph, the damaged aircraft appeared to be too unwieldy for the helicopter crew, which cut a line and dumped it into the ocean 20 or 30 yards from shore, according to Larry and Jacque Longsworth, a retired couple living in Oceanview Estates.

The helicopter “was really revving up,” Jacque Longsworth said. It lifted the aircraft, but the “plane was almost too heavy for the helicopter. . . . The plane dropped into the ocean.”

Larry Longsworth said he was running to get his camera in his home and didn’t see the plane fall into the ocean, but he did see the aircraft’s tail in the water, looking like “a shark’s tail out there.”

Jacque Longsworth said she, her husband and a friend went down to the shoreline to get a better view of what happened, and the helicopter had flown away. There were no emergency vehicles or police at the scene.

There was “just the plane bobbing in the water,” she said. “The only thing . . . You could just see the tail sticking up out of the water.”

She said she didn’t know the depth of the water.

She questioned the advisability of attempting to fly the downed aircraft out in trade winds that left the plane twisting on its towline.

Witnesses remarked: “Oh look, the plane wants to fly again,” she said. “It was pretty windy.”

Ivan Bersamin, who lives on Analio Street, which is parallel to and mauka of Waiehu Beach Road, said he went outside to watch when he heard the noise of a helicopter around 6 p.m. and saw a chopper outside his window.

“It was really windy,” he said. “The airplane started bobbing left and right, and it was affecting the flight of the helicopter . . . It looked like the helicopter was having a hard time.”

As the helicopter went over the ocean, “the plane was all over the place,” Bersamin said. “We were kind of worried. We thought the helicopter pilot was losing control and was going to crash in the ocean.”

Then, the chopper began picking up altitude, and “they either released the cable or the cable snapped,” he said.

Bersamin estimated that the plane fell about 100 yards offshore.

“I saw a big splash,” he said. “It hit the water and went down.”

Then, the chopper, which he characterized as a Bell helicopter, circled around and landed in the area of the crash site, Bersamin said.

Ian Gregor, public affairs manager for the Federal Aviation Administration’s Pacific Region, confirmed Tuesday night that a chopper recovering the aircraft ran into problems and dropped the aircraft about a mile offshore.

The plane is currently in the water, and the FAA will be investigating the incident, he said.

Around 5:38 p.m. Sunday, the Piper Cherokee made an emergency landing about 50 yards from Waiehu Beach, down Lower Waiehu Beach Road. The pilot and three Maui tennis players survived the landing without injury.

The aircraft, on a flight from Honolulu to Maui, had declared a mayday and disappeared from the screens of air traffic controllers.

* Brian Perry can be reached at Lee Imada can be reached at