Ground crews join search for tour plane
Patrols shift tactics in search for plane missing on Big Isle
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The Island Hoppers single-engine Cessna’s pilot has been confirmed by sources as Katsuhiro Takahashi, the chief flight instructor for Hawaii Flight Academy.
HILO » Ground crews joined the Big Island aerial search today for the Island Hoppers' tour plane that disappeared Tuesday with three people on board.
Despite two days of searching, the fate of the Cessna 172M aircraft remained a mystery. The pilot, Katsuhiro Takahashi, was highly qualified, according to Island Hoppers, and emergency officials say it was good flying weather Tuesday. Takahashi's two passengers are believed to be from Japan. Officials, however, have not released their names.
The Coast Guard, Civil Air Patrol and the Hawaii County Fire Department resumed this search after sunrise this morning.
Two Island Hoppers aircraft were tied down on the parking apron yesterday at Kona Airport on the Big Island. One of the company's Cessna 172M aircraft was reported missing Tuesday afternoon.
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HILO » With no success by aerial searches during two days of looking for a missing Island Hoppers Cessna 172M tour plane, the Civil Air Patrol turned to a new approach this morning, driving back roads of the Big Island hoping to detect an emergency beacon signal using hand-held detection units.
Aerial searches also continued with two county helicopters flying the east and west sides of the miles-long ridge formed by Mauna Loa's southwest rift zone. A Coast Guard C-130 plane also was searching the Kalapana lava flow area where the missing plane was last seen on Tuesday, and flying over the coastal area of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
The Island Hoppers' plane, flown by pilot Katsuhiro Takahashi, carried two people from Japan and left Keahole/Kona Airport about 10:15 a.m. Tuesday on a flight plan that would have carried the plane though that air space on a 2 1/2 hour, around-the-island tour.
The missing plane is believed to have carried only a beacon with an old technology analog signal device and low power output which broadcasts on a frequency of 121.5 megahertz.
The Web site for Island Hoppers calls him highly qualified
The 121.5 signal can be blocked by terrain and will not even penetrate trees well.
Deputy Fire Chief Glen Honda said the two Civil Air patrol ground-search teams, one on the east side of the island and one on the west, hope to get close enough to the plane that they will be able to pick up any signal come through trees and bushes.
Searching on the west side will be relatively easy, with searchers driving to the highest area of Hawaiian Ocean View Estates, which extends nearly to Mauna Loa's southeast rift.
On the east side, the problem will be greater. The only backwoods access is on former sugar cane roads, which form an irregular maze and are at least partially overgrown after more than a decade since sugar went out of business in the area.
Meanwhile, county helicopters will be making visual checks of the forests on both sides of the southwest rift, but conditions have been hazy, increasing the difficulty of spotting anything unusual in the dense forest.
Only the Coast Guard C-130 has electronic detection gear, but that has been hampered by the low power output of the beacon, if the device survived a possible crash.
The Coast Guard said it searched more than 3,000 square miles yesterday, an area five times the size of Oahu, for the Cessna 172M. Hawaii County Fire Department Helicopters and a Civil Air Patrol plane also searched the Big Island coastline yesterday, from the Kalapana lava flow area on the east side of the island to Honaunau in South Kona on the west side.
Takahashi was described on the Island Hoppers Web site as highly qualified. He is chief instructor at a flight school associated with Island Hoppers, the Web site said, and he is the only civilian flight instructor in the state who holds a "master" designation for that field, the site said.
He "lives and breathes flying," it said.
Michael Tennant, a 49-year-old pilot and mechanic, said that Island Hoppers lacked routine plane maintenance.
Takahashi's first flight instruction experience was at an aviation college in Arizona, the site said.
"In the several years he has been on our staff, Katsu has earned an enviable 100 percent pass record for every student he has prepared for an FAA flight test," the site said.
Little has been made public about his passengers, but they are believed to be from Japan. Honda received a call yesterday afternoon from Tokyo inquiring about the status of the search.
The high qualifications of the pilot, coupled with what was believed to be good flying weather at the time his flight disappeared, deepened the mystery of what happened to the plane.
After leaving the Keahole/Kona Airport Tuesday morning, Takahashi planned to fly to the north end of the Big Island, along the Hamakua Coast past Hilo to the lava flow area, and continue around the island to the flight's beginning point.
He made it at least as far as the lava area, where he was seen and contacted by radio by a pilot of another Island Hoppers plane at about 12:45 p.m.
At that time he was heading toward the sparsely populated Kau district, where even commercial radio stations from Hilo are hard to hear.
Honda said he had no information on whether the remote location might have blocked an emergency transmission from the plane.
The lack of an emergency beacon signal from the plane is understandable because the plane is believed to have aboard only a low-power beacon that uses 1960s technology and broadcasts an analog signal on a frequency of 121.5 MHz. According to a Canadian National Defense Web site, signals from such a beacon often cannot penetrate debris or trees.