TOM FINNEGAN / TFINNEGAN@STARBULLETIN.COM
Pieces of a downed Alpine Air plane were recovered by the Coast Guard and brought to it's Lihue station Tuesday.
Pilot was calm in final message
Safety investigators are probing the crash of a small plane
Minutes before pilot Paul Akita was scheduled to arrive at Lihue Airport early Monday, he sent a radio transmission informing officials that he was preparing to land, according to state and federal officials.
An airport duty operations controller told investigators he was conducting an airport inspection while the Beechcraft 1900C King Air twin-engine turboprop was approaching the airport, according to a preliminary report released by the National Transportation Safety Board yesterday.
The duty controller recalled hearing a pilot through a radio scanner identify himself as "Alpine Air." The pilot said he was "landing 35 and 7 miles out." Airport personnel said the lights for Runway 35 were functional, based on the report.
The transmission by the pilot was made at 5:12 a.m., said Scott Ishikawa, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation. Ishikawa said the controller described the pilot's voice as "calm and appeared to be no signs of trouble." The controller also heard an earlier transmission at about 5:05 a.m. from the same Alpine Air pilot, saying that he was coming in for a final approach.
The NTSB is investigating what caused the fatal crash of Akita's plane early Monday. A final report is expected to be completed in eight months to a year.
Akita, 38, departed Honolulu for Lihue at 4:43 a.m. Monday to transport 4,200 pounds of mail. He was due to arrive at 5:15 a.m. He was last seen on radar at 5:08 a.m., about seven miles south of Lihue Airport, flying at about 100 feet above water.
It was Akita's first flight for the day. An instrument-flight-rules flight plan was filed, according to the report. Officials had said the FAA did not receive a mayday call from Akita, and no emergency transmitter was activated from the aircraft.
When Akita failed to make contact with the control tower of his landing, Federal Aviation Administration officials called the Alpine offices in Honolulu and Utah, but no one answered the phone. FAA officials then contacted an Aloha Airlines pilot to check whether he saw an Alpine on the ground at the airport.
The 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 looking for its plane.
The Coast Guard launched its search for Akita just before 7 a.m. At 8:48 a.m. the Coast Guard found debris floating on the ocean surface about 11 miles south of the airport. The water depths in the search area were up to 4,800 feet, posing difficulty to locate the main wreckage. The Coast Guard suspended its search Tuesday afternoon. Officials presumed Akita was killed in the crash.
Wind conditions reported at 4:53 a.m. Monday at Lihue Airport were at 26 mph with gusts at 31 mph. The preliminary report also indicated clouds at 4,100 feet and overcast at 5,500 feet.
Akita was a full-time pilot at Alpine Aviation Inc., known as Alpine Air. He graduated from Everglades University with a bachelor's degree in aviation. Akita worked for Big Kahuna Aviation before he joined Alpine Air in July 2004, according to the company in a written statement.