Air ambulance planes inspected, ready to fly
Inspection of two Hawaii Air Ambulance airplanes has been completed, and they should be ready to begin flying missions by the end of the week, says Andrew Kluger, company chairman and chief executive officer.
Kluger voluntarily grounded the company's three airplanes for inspection by independent examiners after one of the planes crashed March 8. The air ambulance had left Honolulu to pick up a patient on Maui and went down in the BMW of Hawaii parking lot, killing the pilot and two medical staff members.
Kluger said the Federal Aviation Administration was invited to participate in the inspection of the other planes, and FAA personnel are going through the company's paperwork. "They want to make sure everything is how they would like to see it."
He said the FAA is "looking at some extra safety issues" but is not doing an investigation. "This is a volunteer situation. To me, it's a matter of safety."
"The company voluntarily grounded themselves. Their airworthiness was not yanked," said Mike Fergus, FAA regional public affairs spokesman.
Fergus said the FAA is not conducting an investigation. "We're not going in with a heavy hammer. ... When they finish, we'll take a look. If we're satisfied, fine. If there are concerns, we'll address them."
The FAA has "identified some issues and concerns," and the company is addressing them, Fergus added. "It is being extremely cooperative."
Kluger said, "It was important for us to go through safety checks to give comfort to the families who work for me, the medical community and the people of Hawaii."
He said inspections uncovered "nothing extraordinary."
Until his planes are back in the air, Kluger said, 10 nurses and medical personnel from the company will fly as volunteers from Hilo, Maui and Honolulu on Coast Guard C-130 medical flights between islands.
He said a top health official had asked Monday if the company could help staff the flights.
They will join 10 volunteers who have been flying the missions from the Hawaii Disaster Medical Assistance Team, headed by Toby Clairmont. About 60 volunteer health professionals and federal employees make up the medical disaster team, Clairmont said.
He said the volunteers began flying the Coast Guard missions March 11, with two to six nurses and paramedics on every flight. They're flying as state volunteers, and have been doing 90 percent of all air medical evacuations, he said.
The disaster team maintains a "strike team schedule," keeping 10 people on call at all times, Clairmont said. If a plane crashes anywhere in the Pacific, the team goes to the scene, he said.
The team was established and trained with federal funding as part of the state's disaster plan.
The same members have been doing air evacuations within Hawaii, Clairmont said. "But we're reaching a critical point. The Coast Guard is concerned about how long it's going to fly. We can't use volunteer help forever."
Kluger said his crews had volunteered and started to fly with the Coast Guard, but the Coast Guard wanted a government agency to be the intermediary.
Janice Okubo, Health Department spokeswoman, said the Coast Guard didn't want to be perceived as supporting a private company. But Hawaii Air Ambulance employees can fly on the Coast Guard planes as volunteers with the medical reserve corps, she said.
They are on paid administrative leave, Kluger said, adding that he has continued to pay all his employees since the tragedy.
Hawaii Air Ambulance is the state's only private air ambulance firm. One of its planes, a Cessna 414A, crashed on Mauna Kea on Jan. 21, 2004, killing three people aboard.