Molokai crash raises permit questions
Federal officials look at whether an air taxi license was required for the Molokai flight
WAILUKU » The business owner whose light airplane crashed near his private runway in west Molokai said he received permission to operate flights from the Federal Aviation Administration.
John Weiser Jr., 71, former owner of KUMU Radio, said the FAA told him about three years ago that the flights between Oahu and his Panda Ranch on Molokai do not require an air taxi license because he's not selling air tours.
"We're not a tour company. We're providing transportation for people to come to Molokai and enjoy a day on the beach and on my ranch," he said. "It's the experience on my property and Molokai that's being charged for and not the flight to Molokai."
A twin-engine Partenavia carrying four people and a pilot crashed shortly before 8:30 p.m. Sunday. All of them survived but one was initially listed in critical condition and another in serious condition after being transferred to the Queen's Medical Center in Honolulu.
FAA officials said their agency was conducting an investigation and noted that Weiser's Tora Flight Adventure Club did not have an air taxi tour license.
FAA spokesman Mike Fergus said yesterday his agency is looking at whether an air taxi license is required for the operation. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the accident.
Weiser said he received building permits for his 60-acre ranch including the residence, even though Maui County officials said yesterday they can't find building permits for a residence.
County public works official Ralph Nagamine said the only permit on file for the ranch is a plumbing approval for a solar-water heater.
Weiser said the ranch has a 2,200-foot long grass runway that's allowed under the agricultural use of his land.
He said the airplane that crashed was following the normal flight pattern as it took off and banked right over former pineapple fields.
Weiser said having an FAA air taxi certification would not have prevented the accident and that his company's training isn't any different than an air taxi service.
He said of the two people who were transferred to the Queen's Medical Center, only one of them -- pilot Kazuo Ogawa, a Japanese national -- remains hospitalized.
Weiser said the other man, also a Japanese national, returned to his hotel Monday.
Weiser said he spoke to Ogawa, who had a collapsed lung and several broken ribs, and expects him to be out of the hospital in less than a week.
"It's just a tragedy that people got hurt," Weiser said, and he added, "They were very lucky."
Weiser said he's not planning to have any more flights landing at his airstrip. "I'm going to lay off it for now," he said.