Plane crash investigation underway on Lanai

Published On: Feb 27 2014 08:47:00 PM HST
LANAI CITY, Hawaii -

The Maui Air chartered flight from Lanai to Maui crashed Wednesday night in the Miki Basin area of Lanai killed three people, including the pilot.

Click here for Andrew Pereira's report.

The Miki Basin area is former pineapple land and it's very rugged.

The Piper twin-engine PA-31, also known as a Navajo, went down in this remote area.

Goodfellow Bros. brought out heavy machinery late Wednesday and cut about a 600-yard path assisting first responders getting to the crash site.

Just before 12:15 p.m. Thursday, the bodies of the two Maui county workers -- Kathleen Kern and Tremaine Balberi -- were extracted from the wreckage along with the pilot.

"Kathleen was a hard worker. She spent a lot of time working on our plan. We are the first in Maui County to start the community plan process," said Ornellas. "She was very professional and we're going to miss her dearly."

"The two ladies and all of them, all of the staff have been just wonderful. They had worked hard. They put up with up with our nonsense, our objections and whatever," said McOmber.

One of the county workers was described as a longtime worker for the Maui planning department, just about five years away from retirement.  She talked at Wednesday night's meeting before the Lanai Planning Commission how she was looking so much forward to retirement.

The other female from the Maui planning department is described as the person that kept all of the minutes during the meetings, who kept everything in order.  She logged everything that went on during these meetings.

Lanai residents say they are very moved by this crash, even if they didn't necessarily know the people in the crash.  They say in a small community, such as Lanai with only about 3,000 people on the island, they feel the pain of the families back on Maui who are mourning a tremendous loss.

"It's heartbreaking to see this. This is just devastating both to the county and this community," said Ron McOmber, a Lanai City resident.

"For something like this to happen, it's just – it hurts here a lot and I'm sure it hurts a lot over on Maui," said John Ornellas, Lanai Planning Commission Chair.

The aircraft was manufactured in 1975 and it belonged to a company known as Maui Air.  It was chartered by Maui County to bring the workers to Lanai for the planning commission meeting.  The meeting wrapped up at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday so they could catch their flight back home.

On Lanai, there were no reports of anyone hearing anything that would resemble engine trouble.  Some say it was very windy on Lanai Wednesday night.

Christopher Harvey and a friend were leaving church in Lana'i City when he saw flames toward the Miki Basin area.

"We seen a small flame. It didn't look very big. It did look like a wildfire," said Lanai City resident Christopher Harvey.

What Harvey and his buddy could not see was Deputy Corporation Counsel James Giroux risking his own life to save others.

"He's the hero of that plane flight," said Ornellas.

"If he did that …. then he ought to get something for that because that's heroic. That's what you do when you're in that position," said McOmber.

An initial report by the National Transportation Safety Board is expected in about a week.  It may take six months or more for the NTSB to come out with its final report.

This was the 19th aviation accident on Lanai since 1963.  Four of the accidents, including Wednesday night's crash, left seven people dead.  The last fatal crash was in June 2001.

The last crash on Lanai involving county employees on county business was a helicopter crash on May 20, 1998.

UPDATED PHOTOS: Lana'i plane crash wreckage, victims

Click here to see more photos of the crash site.


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