Sunday, February 1, 2004

A twin-engine Cessna 414A like the one below went missing over the Big Isle yesterday. The plane was built in 1978 and is registered to Pacific Air Ambulance of California.

Medical aircraft
lost over Big Isle

The Hawaii Air Ambulance
plane was en route from
Oahu to pick up a patient

A search was to resume at dawn today for a twin-engine Hawaii Air Ambulance plane that should have landed at the Hilo Airport at 1:50 a.m. yesterday.

The Coast Guard, Hawaii County Fire Department and Civil Air Patrol searched for the Cessna 414A from 3 a.m. yesterday until after dark along the Hamakua Coast of the Big Island and inland in the Laupahoehoe Forest Reserve, but did not locate the missing plane.

"Obviously, we're all very concerned. First and foremost our thoughts and concerns go out to the family, friends and relatives of the crew of that flight," said Dr. Mitchel Rosenfeld, medical director for Hawaii Air Ambulance, a Honolulu-based company of 100 employees and five Cessna 414A airplanes, including the one that is missing.

The company refused yesterday to identify the pilot and two paramedics aboard the plane, which was heading to Hilo to pick up a patient for transport to Honolulu.

The patient was later transported on another plane. The patient's condition was not known. The company continued to provide its service with its four remaining planes.

Co-workers and family members identified the paramedic and firefighter who were on board the plane. They said they were still clinging to hope that the men will be found alive.


Waianae native Mandy Shiraki, who has worked almost 30 years for the Honolulu Emergency Medical Service, was one of the workers aboard the missing plane, said fellow city EMS District Chief Kaipo Asing.

"Matter of fact, he's supposed to be working with me now, but I think he's going to be a little late," Asing said yesterday afternoon.

"Everybody in the medical community knows him. He's well-loved, well respected. He's taught many paramedics. He believes in maintaining a high standard of medical care," Asing said.

"Our hearts are heavy, but our hopes are still high. I'm sure there's a lot of medics praying for him.

"He's a survivor, no doubt about it," Asing said. "He's probably hacking his way through the forest right now."

The second paramedic aboard the flight was Joseph Daniel Villiaros, a Honolulu firefighter assigned to the Waiau Fire Station.

A co-worker at the station, who declined to give his name, said he and his colleagues are "hoping for the best."

"That's pretty much all we can do right now," he said. "We're not making any assumptions."

Two planes and two helicopters were expected to resume the search over both land and ocean at first light today, said Coast Guard Lt. Danny Shaw.

Rescuers were concentrating their search yesterday inland between Waimea and Hilo because the last radar signal received from the plane was near the Waimea Airport, several miles south of the coastal route that Hawaii Air Ambulance pilots usually take, Shaw said.

Shaw said it's possible the pilot chose a more inland flight plan to try and avoid "significant weather, with heavy winds and heavy rains."

The last radar transmission from the plane showed it was at an altitude of 5,900 feet, which is lower than the 9,500 to 9,800 feet normal for the route, Shaw said, "but we don't know the reason."

A woman who lives near a forest preserve told authorities she heard the sputtering engine of a plane about the time of the air ambulance's last radio contact.

"It would be really hard to see a plane if it did go down" in the dense forest, fire Capt. Clint Coloma said.

The plane was equipped with an emergency locator transmitter, Hawaii Air Ambulance officials said, but no signal has been received from it.

Federal Aviation Administration records show the plane was about 25 years old.

Hawaii Air Ambulance company has had no loss of life in its 25 years of transporting patients from neighbor island hospitals to Oahu, Rosenfeld said yesterday afternoon.

The company is the state's only private fixed-wing aeromedical provider. It flies more than 2,000 missions annually, the company said.

Its only significant mechanical incident was about four years ago, when a plane nose's landing wheels failed on Maui with only a pilot aboard, said Stephen Henley, the company's operations director. The pilot wasn't injured.

Star-Bulletin reporter Mary Vorsino and the Associated Press contributed to this story.


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