Investigators recover engines from Lanai crash site

Federal investigators recovered a Piper Chieftain’s engines Friday from a debris field left two days earlier on Lanai when a twin-engine aircraft crashed, killing the pilot and two county Department of Planning employees and injuring three others.

The engines were taken to a secure location for investigators to examine them to see if they were functioning properly before the crash, which was reported at 9:23 p.m. Wednesday.

National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Peter Knudson said via email that the investigators planned to recover the rest of the aircraft’s wreckage Saturday. But he had not received word as of Saturday afternoon if they had completed their work. They were at the scene to document the remains of the burned aircraft in a 500-foot-long, flat debris area on Lanai’s Miki Basin.

A man, later identified as Deputy Corporation Counsel James Giroux, called 911 emergency dispatchers Wednesday night to report that he had been in a plane crash. He had pulled the two other surviving passengers out of the plane that burned after impact.

It took Lanai fire crews 12 minutes to reach the site of the crash about 1 mile southwest of Lanai Airport in a former pineapple field.

Killed in the crash were pilot Richard “Dick” Rooney, 66, of Spreckelsville; Maui County planner Kathleen Kern, 50, of Kihei; and Planning Department secretary Tremaine Balberdi, 52, of Kahului. Aside from Giroux, who was listed in serious condition, planner Doug Miller with the Planning Department’s Long-Range Planning Division and Mark King with Geographic Information Systems in the Long-Range Planning Division were in critical condition at The Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu.

Giroux and the Planning Department officials were on Lanai to staff a Lanai Planning Commission meeting Wednesday evening. They were aboard a 9:05 p.m. flight to Kahului Airport.

Autopsies were expected to be done this week on the bodies of the pilot and two deceased passengers, police said.