Coast Guard calls off search for pilot
The Coast Guard suspended its search yesterday afternoon for a 38-year-old pilot in seas off Kauai.
Coast Guard officials said they will resume their search if new information arises on pilot Paul Masahiko Akita.
"Anything that can lead us to the missing man, we will be launching our assets at that moment," said Chief Petty Officer Michael De Nyse. "Our hopes are to reunite him with his family. That's our goal."
By air and sea, crew members covered more than 200 square miles of water in their search for Akita -- a pilot for Alpine Aviation, also known as Alpine Air -- since just before 7 a.m. Monday. The search was suspended at 2 p.m. yesterday.
The company's Beechcraft King Air twin-engine turboprop was last seen on radar at 5:08 a.m. Monday, 7.2 miles southeast of Lihue, flying at 100 feet above water. The aircraft was due to arrive at Lihue airport at 5:15 a.m.
When the pilot failed to make contact with the control tower, Federal Aviation Administration officials called Alpine offices in Honolulu and Utah, but no one answered the phone. FAA officials then contacted an Aloha Airlines pilot to check if he saw an Alpine on the ground at the airport.
The Aloha pilot reported that the Alpine was on the ground, but it was the wrong plane. More than an hour later, the FAA received a call from Alpine Air to inquire on the whereabouts of the plane.
The Coast Guard recovered 45 mail bags, pieces of the aircraft and an inflated life boat.
The main wreckage is believed to be under 4,800 feet of water.
"That really poses difficulty as far as search efforts at that depth," said Kristi Dunks, air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board.
The recovered debris was examined and photographed by investigators yesterday.
"We're trying to identify pieces," Dunks said.
The NTSB will also review the pilot's and aircraft's records, weather conditions and air traffic control information.
David Dart, Hawaii station manager for Alpine Air, said he is grateful for the Coast Guard's efforts in its search for Akita. "They did all they could and more. ... We appreciate it," Dart said as he was on his way to visit Akita's family members yesterday. "We're all just very sorry, very sorry."
He described Akita as well-liked and popular. "He is just a good guy, good all around, hard worker, dependable person," he said.
Akita, who lived in Wailupe, worked part-time as a surf instructor for the Hawaiian Fire School for the past 2 1/2 years, according to school co-owner and fellow instructor Kevin Miller. He described Akita as an outgoing guy and an excellent waterman. Along with surfing, he enjoyed diving and fishing and spoke fluent Japanese, Miller said.
"The customers pretty much loved his teaching style and personality," Miller said. "He pretty much loved to fly and surf."