Crash survivor says landing smooth, nine aboard calm
HONOLULU – When the lone engine of a commercial plane failed, the nine people on board stayed calm as the aircraft glided toward the ocean and made a remarkably smooth belly landing, a survivor recounted Friday.
C. Phillip Hollstein Jr., a 70-year-old Kailua man, swam to a rugged shoreline about a half-mile away after the crash. State Health Director Loretta Fuddy, a passenger on the aircraft, later died.
Hollstein said the single-engine turboprop plane had just taken off from Molokai and was making a turn toward Honolulu when it seemed like something on the plane broke.
“We probably weren’t a minute out,” he said. “It wasn’t real loud or anything. Just a muffled bang. Then we were a glider.”
When Hollstein saw that everyone was out of the plane, bobbing in the water and seemingly without any major injuries, he swam for shore, guessing it took 90 minutes. He said he was surprised to hear that Fuddy had died.
“She was doing fine out of the airplane,” Hollstein said. “Her assistant was really watching her. He was taking care of her.”
Fuddy, 65, was the only fatality among the nine people on the plane that crashed Wednesday. An autopsy was expected to be conducted Friday.
The plane lost power, Hollstein said, and the pilot made a water landing on the plane’s belly, bringing the 2002 Cessna Grand Caravan to an abrupt stop. Hollstein said he was sitting in the back of the plane, so he didn’t know whether the pilot was saying anything.
“Everyone was real quiet. We hit (the water) and it was all about getting the belts off,” he said, describing how everyone started putting on life jackets and remained on the plane until it seemed to start sinking.
“There wasn’t panic or anything. It was very orderly. It wasn’t like any of the movies or the TV shows,” he said.
Hollstein’s wife, Janice Hollstein, said her husband rarely swims but does leg exercises daily and is a skydiver.
“My husband is able to handle emergencies and crisis situations, but toddlers are a different story,” she said. She said they have three grandchildren.
Hollstein said the pilot was the reason nearly everyone survived.
“He did everything right,” Hollstein said. “He set it up for the best crash-landing you could do.”
The pilot, Clyde Kawasaki, said from his Honolulu hospital room that he hoped to be released later Friday. Kawasaki, 60, of Kapolei, hit his head on the control panel, his son, Robert Kawasaki said.
The son picked up his father – still wearing wet pants and looking disoriented – at Honolulu International Airport hours after the crash and drove him to the hospital.
“He’s very broken up about (Fuddy’s death),” the son said.
He described how his father rebelled against taking over his family’s Big Island vegetable farm to pursue his passion for flying. He said his father has worked for various Hawaii airlines and is an experienced pilot.
“To land on its belly with all the waves, that’s pretty impressive,” Robert Kawasaki said. “He’s a glider pilot, too. So he knows what to do when a plane is stuck in a glide.”
John Frank, executive director of the Cessna Pilots Association, said a pilot handling the plane correctly would be able to glide it into the water relatively gently and in one piece. He said the main issue would be preventing the aircraft from flipping when its fixed landing gear hit the water.
“With any forced landing, be it on water or land, the goal is to touch down with as low an airspeed as possible where you still have control of the aircraft,” about 65 to 75 knots, Frank said.
Frank said the model of the plane in the crash has a reliable engine.
“It’s very unusual to have an inflight failure of this engine – almost unheard of, actually, unless there’s some contributing factor like fuel not being available to the engine or something,” Frank said.
When Coast Guard rescuers flew to the crash, there was no sign of the plane.
A team of rescue swimmers and pilots maneuvered two helicopters and an HC-130 airplane about 50 feet above the water, using flares as a guide to locate two clusters of passengers.
Rescue swimmer Mark Peer said when he got to Fuddy, she wasn’t responsive and he couldn’t find a pulse.
“It was not a good feeling,” he said.
In the final moments of her life, Fuddy clung to the hand of her deputy, Keith Yamamoto, while floating in the water. Fuddy, who played a role in making President Barack Obama’s birth certificate public in 2011, held hands with Yamamoto as he tried to help her relax, said the Rev. Patrick Killilea, who consoled Yamamoto after the ordeal.
Makani Kai Air owner Richard Schuman said he didn’t know why the engine of the 2002 Cessna Grand Caravan failed. The aircraft had no previous problems, he said.
Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating. The location of the wreckage, combined with wind and wave conditions, likely means the plane won’t be recovered, NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said.