Pilot vividly describes fatal Molokai plane crash
"I'm no hero, I'm just doing my job in a bad situation," said Makani Kai Air pilot Clyde Kawasaki at a news conference Wednesday morning.
Kawasaki was piloting a Cessna Caravan aircraft a week ago today when it crashed off Kalaupapa, Molokai. Nine people including Kawasaki were aboard the flight. State Health Director Loretta Fuddy died after getting out of the plane.
Kawasaki described the events leading up to the crash. ""I heard a loud bang," he said. "I looked down and had a panel full of red and yellow lights. The fire indicator was going off. I had no idea what happened. I just knew I was going down."
Attempting to maintain airspeed and make it to land, Kawasaki said he tried to maneuver his plane the best he could to keep it in the air.
"I was going through the procedures and at the same time trying to make out if I could make land...but later realized that we are going for a swim."
He said that he didn't panic and relied on his decades of experience. He said he has been flying since he was 14 years-old.
"Everyone talks about everything going in slow motion. Your life flashing before your eyes. All of those cliches. None of those happened. It all happened in real time."
He described his initial observations from the cockpit after the plane hit the ocean.
"I remember lurching off to one side, hitting my head, one of the first things I saw in the cockpit was blood all over the place. That's when I discovered I had a small gash," he indicated as he pointed to a stitched wound on his head.
Leaving the cockpit, Kawasaki says the water was already up to his waist. He then checked the plane to make sure his eight passengers had left the plane then started removing seat cushions to use as flotation devices.
Once out of the plane, he said he could not locate any of the cushions he had removed. He spotted a cooler floating in the water, but couldn't reach it because of the ocean conditions.
"The wind and the wave conditions were so bad, I couldn't catch it. No way," he said. "It was horrible."
Not long after the crash, pilot Josh Lane and his girlfriend Jamiee Thompson spotted the downed plane during their Maui-bound flight.
They had been alerted to the wreckage by air traffic controllers.
Having given away his life jacket to a passenger, Kawasaki used a couple of passengers to stay afloat. But once he saw Josh's plane overhead, he knew that rescue was coming soon.
"I knew in the time we hit the water and the time Josh saw us...that it would take them about a half an hour to finally get us," Kawasaki explained.
Kawasaki says he did not know about the death of Loretta Fuddy until he got back to land.
"It was devastating to say the least. Initially everyone said that everyone was accounted for and everyone was okay. So I couldn't understand how that could happen at that time...that she could have passed. 'Cause everyone seemed fine when they got out of the airplane."
When asked about his decision to return to flying, Kawasaki referred to military pilots having to get back into action following a crash. He said that inspiration will help the healing process.
"It still hurts, I feel bad of course. I was hoping to end my career without a crash, without any death or injury, and obviously that won't happen."
He'll have to wait for medical clearance to take off again. He hopes to get that clearance during a doctor's appointment next week when stitches from his head wound will be removed.
"It's got its dangers, put I'd still do it again. I'll still fly for a living."
The salvage operation for the Makani Kai plane that crashed off Kalaupapa last week will end at nightfall today, no matter what is retrieved or not retrieved. The boat should be back in port in Honolulu by Thursday morning.
Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board will continue investigating the crash to try to determine a cause.
Meanwhile, service have been set for State Health Director Loretta Fuddy. A public memorial will be held Saturday Dec. 21 at 9 a.m. at the St. Theresa Co-Cathedral in Kalihi.
The results of her autopsy are pending.
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