Co-workers of Lanai plane crash victims speak out

By Lara Yamada
Published On: Feb 27 2014 08:15:00 PM HST

Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa held a news conference for family and friends of those who died in the plane crash on Lanai Wednesday night.

WAILUKU, Hawaii -

It has been less than 24 hours since that plane went down on Lanai, and the loss is just barely beginning to sink in for those who knew the victims not only as co-workers but friends.

Click here to watch Lara Yamada's report.

Many, including the Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa, struggled with their emotions after hearing the heartbreaking news.

"We all get to work with each other, so it's like family," Arakawa said.

His voice cracking and his emotions barely restrained as he officially announced the crash in Wailuku. Arakawa says this is an entire community in mourning.

"You know we are a very small community and everybody knows each other, everybody works with each other. Any kind of a loss like this really hits home," said Arakawa.

In the packed briefing room, the crowd echoed his emotions.

Maui's Department of Planning suffered the biggest loss. Planning department members Tremaine Balberdi and Kathleen Kern lost their lives in the crash; one was a long-time employee and another they say was a bright, young addition. Their colleagues Douglas Miller and Mark King were severely injured.

"It is a really tight, hardworking, wonderful core of people," said Planning Department Deputy Director Michele McLean. "We're devastated. There really isn't anything more to say than that."

"There is a lot of support with this county and in this community," said Corporation Counsel Deputy Moana Lutey.

One of Lutey's colleagues, deputy attorney James Giroux was the passenger who called 911 saying their plane had crashed. He was also the one who pulled Miller and King from the burning wreckage.

'It does sound like someone from our office did assist two members of planning. From my understanding, it's really heroic and we're proud of him," said Lutey.

Giroux, a father of two kids, released a statement where he assured he did not have any life-threatening injuries, and that he is recovering. His ex-wife, Kirstin Hamman, also praised Giroux for his heroic actions.

"We are extremely grateful James is okay and very proud of him and what he did. He is a hero. Jacob and Joy can't wait to see him," said Hamman. "Thank you everyone for keeping James, the other survivors, and the family members of those who lost their loved ones in your prayers."

Inside, the Maui community has turned to each other for support. Outside, flags flew at half-staff showing another sign of community mourning.

"Our hearts go out to the victims' families and just ask for everyone's thoughts for their recovery and the folks still in the hospital," said McLean.

In the meantime, there are grief counselors on hand helping the many people affected by what happened.

Maui Managing Director Keith Regan, Maui Fire Department Chief Jeffrey Murray and Corporation Counsel Manager Patrick Wong flew to Oahu Thursday morning to assist the families affected by the plane crash. Regan says he's very concerned about their well being, he will continue to help with families' needs, and asks that the public respect their privacy.

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