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Two pilots rescued after plane crashes off Lanai

Pilot monitoring the distressed aircraft says ocean conditions were ‘pretty rough’

Two Oahu pilots were apparently doing “fine” after suffering “minor injuries” in a single-engine plane crash off Lanai Saturday evening.

The crash occurred around 5:50 p.m. Saturday in waters 3 miles west of Lanai City, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, which is investigating the incident.

Shortly before the crash at 5:49 p.m., the U.S. Coast Guard said that Joint Rescue Coordination Center watchstanders received a report from Honolulu Control Facility stating an aircraft was experiencing engine trouble and was likely going to ditch in the water. Air traffic control put out the word to other pilots to be on the lookout for the aircraft, a single-engine Diamond DA40 being rented out for flight instruction.

Mokulele Airlines pilot Justin Constantino and first officer Jeremy Delia were nearby and were monitoring the distressed aircraft. Constantino said they conversed with the pilots in distress, who reported that they were having engine problems and had tried to restart it with no success. White smoke was also coming out from the cowling, the pilots told Constantino and Delia, who witnessed the crash.

Constantino said there was no fire when the plane went down, but they did have to circle the area a few times until they spotted the victims.

“Finally saw two life jackets. We knew they were out,” Constantino recalled Sunday morning via phone.

The Mokulele pilots told air traffic control that it was close to sunset and that authorities should hurry to rescue the victims.

“It was pretty rough,” Constantino said of the conditions Saturday evening. “It was pretty hard to keep an eye on them. There were so many white caps. They were definitely being pushed by the current.”

Constantino said winds were blowing around 30 to 40 miles per hour at the time.

“I was thinking, if that was me I would want any help I could get,” Constantino said.

The Mokulele pilots got consent from their passengers to stay in the area and keep an eye on the other aircraft but had to leave after around 40 minutes because they were monitoring their own fuel. Constantino said a plane from Kamaka Air, an air cargo company, then came to monitor the area. Officials from Kamaka Air could not immediately be reached for comment on Sunday.

Coast Guard watchstanders issued an urgent marine information broadcast notice to mariners and deployed an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter and Station Maui 45-foot Response Boat-Medium rescue crews.

Once on scene, the Dolphin helicopter crew located the two pilots and deployed a rescue swimmer to give aid and hoist the pilots to safety.

Fire crews from Maui and Molokai deployed air and surface assets to aid in the rescue.

The aircraft reportedly sank and does not present a threat to navigation, the Coast Guard said.

The Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point MH-65 Dolphin helicopter aircrew rescued the pilots 8 miles off of Lanai and brought them to awaiting emergency services at the air station, the Coast Guard said.

“As a watchstander this is the type of outcome we want to see with every case,” said Lt. j.g. Makenzy Karnehm, a Coast Guard Joint Rescue Coordination Center watchstander. “Both the Coast Guard and our partners train together for incidents like this and once the call came in we were able to quickly mobilize a robust response and rescue the pilots.”

Honolulu Emergency Medical Services spokeswoman Shayne Enright said on Sunday that one victim is 34 years old and the other is 44.

George’s Aviation Services CEO George Hanzawa, whose Diamond DA40 aircraft was being used as an instruction rental Saturday before it crashed, said the men were “experienced pilots” who came away with “minor injuries” and were taken to the hospital Saturday evening for observation. He did not know their condition Sunday but said “they told us they are fine.”

One of the pilots even waved to Hanzawa as he watched them being taken to the hospital Saturday. Due to COVID-19 protocols, he was unable to visit with them.

Hanzawa said on Sunday morning via phone that one of the men had been working on a “higher rating” while flying Saturday.

“That’s what it takes, training and all of that. That’s what makes great outcomes,” Hanzawa said.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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