Series of errors caused hard landing of Cessna on Molokai

A series of errors and miscommunication led to a Makani Kai Air Cessna landing hard and tearing off its front wheel in an attempt to avoid another plane earlier this year at Kalaupapa Airport on Molokai, the company owner said Tuesday.

“It was a couple errors in procedures, and we know the end result,” Richard Schuman said.

The National Transportation Safety Board released its factual report of the Feb. 11 accident last month. The report stated that the pilot of the 208 Caravan, which was carrying nine passengers, was approaching the airport, which has a single runway and no taxiways.

The pilot communicated with another plane near the airport that she was about 7 miles out and coming in for a landing, the report said. The other plane’s pilot reported that he would tell her when he was clear of the runway, and he did.

Unlike Molokai Airport, the small northern field does not have an air traffic controller, so it is up to pilots to communicate when they are landing.

As the Makani Kai Air plane descended to 150 feet above ground level, the pilot noticed that the other plane was not clear of the runway, the report stated. The other plane was facing toward her with the propeller turning.

“I immediately added power to ‘go around,’ ” the pilot said in her statement to the NTSB. “My aircraft yawed left, and I attempted to correct while maintaining a climb attitude. The aircraft refused to climb and immediately dropped, impacting the runway midway on the bottom of the airframe.”

The plane bounced after hitting the runway, and the pilot steered it onto the grass and out of the way of the other plane, fearing it might take off, she said. After coming to a stop, she checked on the passengers and assisted one who used a wheelchair.

The pilot of the other plane attempted to takeoff after the crash but was “vehemently told” by the airport manager that the runway was closed until further notice, the report said.

The Federal Aviation Administration determined there was “no preimpact mechanical anomalies” that would have prevented normal flight operations of the Cessna.

Schuman said there was a Japanese instructor teaching a student how to fly in the other plane, and they were in “a little cul-de-sac” area on the east side of the airport.

“In his mind, he was clear of the runway, but from the standpoint of the FAA and state that is still on the active runway. It is not a nonmoving area.

“When you say you’re clear of the runway, that means you’re nowhere near it. It means you’re either parked or up in the air.”

Schuman said the Japanese instructor was facing the ocean and away from the incoming Cessna. He said the instructor “got a little antsy” after waiting awhile so he decided to power up and turn around to face the plane.

“At that point, she saw him and stress and panic ensued,” Schuman said of his pilot. “She tried to do a ‘go around,’ but at that point being distracted and stressed she made an oops and hit the ground pretty hard.”

Schuman said the instructor ran out of runway when he tried to take off after the crash. He said he parked the plane and walked up a hill to leave the airport and fly back home to Honolulu.

“He didn’t even realize that he was involved,” Schuman said. “I don’t think he was running; he just didn’t know. He was just clueless about his involvement.”

Investigators tracked the instructor down by the time he reached Oahu, Schuman said. He did not believe there would be any punishment against anyone in the accident.

“They did talk to him to try to get his story,” Schuman said. “He sounded pretty truthful and honest about everything. To my knowledge there’s nothing pending on him.”

Schuman said he has let go of the pilot, who was with the company for only a month prior to the incident. He said she should have physically looked to see if the runway was clear before landing.

“If you don’t have a visual of the other aircraft, the normal procedure is to do a ‘go around,’ ” he said. “She took it upon the man’s word.”

The Cessna Caravan sustained substantial damage to the right side of the fuselage and the right wing. Schuman said the plane was taken apart and sent to Colorado, where it is being reassembled.

Schuman said insurance will cover the damage, and he hopes to have the plane back in December or January.

Since the crash, Makani Kai Air has placed a greater emphasis on emergency training and communications by pilots at uncontrolled airports such as Kalaupapa. The company also is being more careful hiring.

“We recognized that we need to do a more thorough job of prescreening pilots and hire ones with more experience before we let them go,” Schuman said.

Schuman said he hires pilots who have at least a couple years of experience and pays them “north of $100,000.” He said his company tends to have a “very, very low turnover rate,” which adds to safety.

Schuman said he is still supported by local residents despite the hard landing and 2013’s crash off Kalaupapa that claimed the life of state Health Director Loretta Fuddy. The company services visitors and residents, which includes the remaining leprosy patients who fly off-island for medical treatment.

“I understand the stigma, especially with Loretta Fuddy,” he said. “I don’t have any ill will toward people who don’t want to fly with us; it makes sense. But we’ve been able to provide great and reliable service to very supportive local people.”

The estimated release of the NTSB probable cause report for February’s incident is Oct. 17.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.

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