A U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmer describes the crash scene as 'surreal'

By Nana Ohkawa
Published On: Dec 12 2013 05:32:00 PM HST

A U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmer described the crash scene as "surreal."  The Guard had sent out one plane and two choppers to save lives in Molokai.

HONOLULU -

A U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmer described the crash scene as "surreal." The Coast Guard sent out one plane and two choppers to save lives from the Makani Kai flight that crashed on Wednesday off Kalaupapa.

Click here to watch Nana Ohkawa's report.

"We didn't see an aircraft in the water, there was already some debris," described Lt. Weston Red Elk.

Elk was the pilot of the first U.S. Coast Guard helicopter on scene.

"The H-60 from the Navy had previously dropped two smoke floats in the water which gave us immediate recognition of where the survivors were," said Elk.

Hovering about 40 feet above water he spotted two groups of people floating in the ocean. One was a half mile from shore. The other was about a mile out.

The survivors were floating face up, holding onto their life jackets, clearly exhausted.

Rescue swimmer Pj Ornot first spotted State Health Director Loretta Fuddy. He touched and shook her but with no response protocol meant move on. The next person he saw was an elderly woman about a hundred yards away from Fuddy.

"She was tired and exhausted. I got up very close to her before she bothered to move over to look at me at all," said Ornot.  

She was hoisted up, and the next save was a man with a clear cut and bump on his head.

As the next U.S. Coast Guard rescue team arrived, rescue swimmer Mark Peer looked down at the water from the aircraft and saw a a good sign, a big wave from a man in his 70s.

"I got in the water, swam up to him, said, 'Hey, sir, Coast Guard rescue swimmer,' and he just looked over and smiled. It was a good feeling. I grabbed his arm and he grabbed me back and I signaled the helicopter to send down the basket,'" said Peer.

The next person he retrieved was one the first rescuer had to pass up -- Director Fuddy.

"She was unresponsive at which point I checked for a pulse, which I couldn't find," said Peer.

The rescue team members said even though the weather wasn't rough, what made the rescue difficult was making sure there wasn't a crash between two aircraft from different agencies. There were at least six in the air at a time trying to recover the survivors.

Each survivor was brought back to Kalaupapa.

PHOTOS: Molokai plane crash search and rescue


Click here to see pictures of the search and rescue.

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