Engine failure blamed in Hawaii plane crash

Engine failure caused a small commercial plane carrying nine people to crash into the ocean off Hawaii, killing the director of the state’s Health Department, the airline’s owner said Thursday. Eight other people onboard, including the pilot, survived.

Owner Richard Schuman of Makani Kai Air said the pilot did his best to get the single-engine plane down safely and keep the passengers together in the waters off Molokai. Schuman said the pilot told him the engine had failed.

Asked how they survived, he responded: “Will.”

The pilot of the 2002 Cessna Grand Caravan was physically OK, said Schuman, who declined to release the pilot’s name. Little information was available on the conditions of the other passengers.

Maui County officials said the National Transportation Safety Board was investigating the crash in which Health Director Loretta Fuddy died.

The turboprop plane, bound for Honolulu, went down about a half-mile northwest of Kalaupapa Peninsula, Maui Fire Department spokesman Lee Mainaga said in a statement.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said investigators planned to speak with the survivors, including the pilot.

The location of the wreckage, combined with wind and wave conditions, likely means it won’t be recoverable, NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss added.

“We handle lots of investigations in which the airplane is not recoverable,” he said. “The fact gathering on the ground continues.”

It was Fuddy who released President Barack Obama’s long-form birth certificate in 2011 after he and his personal attorney wrote to Fuddy to make it public and relieve the state from the burden that came with repeated inquiries.

Fuddy said then that she had viewed the records that “further prove the fact that he was born in Hawaii.”

Fuddy, 65, and deputy director Keith Yamamoto were on the flight after an annual visit to Kalaupapa, a remote peninsula on the north side of Molokai island where the state exiled leprosy patients until 1969. It’s accessible only by plane or mule.

Tom Matsuda, interim executive director of Hawaii’s health insurance exchange, confirmed the death of Fuddy, who was on the board of the exchange.

“I cannot even begin to convey what a terrible loss this is for Hawaii,” Matsuda said in a statement. “I worked closely with Director Fuddy on the Affordable Care Act and came to know and respect her as a passionate advocate for public health and a warm, caring human being.”

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie said Fuddy was loved and respected.

“Her knowledge was vast, her counsel and advice always given from her heart as much as from her storehouse of experience,” Abercrombie said.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Melissa McKenzie said a Coast Guard helicopter rescued three passengers from the water and Maui fire crews picked up others. One person swam ashore.

McKenzie said the helicopter transported three people to Honolulu for medical treatment, while a Coast Guard plane took five people to Maui.

Coast Guard Lt. Kevin Cooper, who helped coordinate the rescue effort from Oahu, said life jackets were key factors for surviving the crash.