Monday, September 27, 1999

By Ronen Zilberman, Associated Press
The wreckage of Flight 58 at the 9,800-foot level on Mauna Loa.

10 killed in
Big Island
plane crash

Investigation under way

Officials seek 3 victims' next of kin
Pilot was seasoned
Flight patterns concern park

By Rod Thompson
and Gordon Y.K. Pang


HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK -- Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board this morning were to visit an old, desolate lava field nearly two miles high on the southeast slope of Mauna Loa.

Their mission: To begin piecing together the reasons why a Big Island Air twin-engine Piper Navajo Chieftain slammed into the mountain early Saturday evening, killing the pilot and nine passengers on a sightseeing trip around the island.

"They went pretty much straight into the mountain," said park superintendent Jim Martin. There were less than 100 feet of skid marks, he said.

"The ranger on site said he thought it was a pretty hard impact because of the way the lava was displaced," said ranger Doug Lentz.

The wreckage was still smoking when searchers arrived yesterday, Lentz said.

Today the park service was to return to the crash site to continue the recovery of victims' remains. Most of the bodies in the plane were burned and dismembered by the impact, rangers said. A U.S. Army team that works with combat victims may be called in to help with the process of identifying the remains.

The plane's passenger list had not been released as of this morning, and officials were still trying to contact some of the victims' families yesterday. Officials said five men and five women were aboard the plane. It appeared that the pilot and at least one passenger were Hawaii residents.

New Hampshire's Gov. Jeanne Shaheen said today that state corrections director Hank Risley was among those killed.

The Piper Navajo Chieftain

Bullet Owner: Big Island Air, Inc.
Bullet Registered: Feb. 11, 1998


Bullet Seating capacity: 8
Bullet Engines: 2, each capable of producing 310 horsepower
Bullet Max. weight: 7,000 pounds
Bullet Avg. cruising speed: 162 mph
Bullet Fuel capacity: About 180 gallons
Bullet Range: About 890 nautical miles

Source: Associated Press

The plane crashed inside the boundaries of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park at the 9,800-foot elevation, about 1.2 miles southwest of Red Hill cabin, park rangers said. A Hawaii County Fire Department helicopter located the wreckage at 5:56 a.m. yesterday, about 12 hours after it disappeared. The plane left Keahole-Kona Airport at 4:22 p.m. and was reported missing after 6 p.m. when it failed to return.

An NTSB official arrived in Kona on a direct flight from Los Angeles yesterday and met with Big Island Air officials in the afternoon and evening. Six more people from the agency, including a public relations officer and a family affairs specialist, were to fly in from Washington, D.C., duty officer Terry Williams said by telephone from Washington.

Besides county Fire Department personnel and park rangers who removed remains, two Honolulu-based inspectors from the Federal Aviation Administration went to the site yesterday.

Hans Linschoten and Scott Christiansen said the plane crashed in a relatively flat area of jagged, a'a lava.

"It appeared to have run into the terrain," Christiansen said. Linschoten said the National Transportation Safety Board will review the information he and Christiansen gathered before ascending Mauna Loa today.

Two helicopters were to be used in the investigation and search today. Martin said he expected the transportation safety people to set up a base of operations in the park.

"We need to operate from the park because it's closest. If we're going to deal with the recovery of engines, you really have got to operate from the park," he said.

It appeared that nine sets of remains were recovered yesterday. One person seemed to be missing, Lentz said.

The bodies were flown in a county helicopter to an area near the top of Mauna Loa Strip Road. From there, they were transported in two hearses and two ambulance-like wagons to Hilo Hospital, said a Memorial Mortuary spokeswoman.

The cause of the accident is not yet known, but suspicion focused on the weather.

Ranger Mar said the weather at Kilauea was alternately clear and cloudy about 4 p.m. Saturday. Mar drove to Hilo and noticed that Mauna Loa was covered with clouds by 5:30 p.m., he said.

"It changes very rapidly in the afternoon," Martin said. The plane was known to have flown down the Hamakua Coast and southward from Hilo.

"Flying in Hawaii can be tricky because the weather can change so quickly," said Ben Fouts, a pilot with Mauna Loa Helicopters.

The downed plane's last contact with controllers came at 5:21 p.m. when the pilot radioed seeking permission to cross Pohakuloa Training Area, a restricted military installation.

The pilot did not radio a distress call.

Martin conjectured that the pilot got into clouds, found himself in a whiteout, then suddenly saw the ground coming at him. Or, "it may turn out it's mechanical."

Officials seek
3 victims’ next of kin

By Gregg K. Kakesako


Officials today were having difficulty trying to find the relatives of three victims of Saturday's crash of a Big Island Air tour plane.

Harry Kim, Big Island Civil Defense director, said authorities were unable to contact relatives or the next of kin of three of the 10 people onboard the two-engine Piper aircraft that crashed on the slopes of Mauna Loa.

However, one victim, Henry Risley, was identified this morning by New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen when she told her staff of the tragedy. Risley, 53, the state's corrections director, was vacationing in Hawaii with his wife, Peggy. She was not on the flight.

Kim said the bodies of the crash victims were in such bad shape that the National Transportation Safety Board has requested help from the Army's Central Identification Laboratory at Hickam Air Force Base. The team of Army forensic experts usually spends its time identifying the remains of servicemen from the Korea and Vietnam wars.

Kim said the complete list of victims probably won't be available for several days.

Risley was appointed a member of Shaheen's cabinet as commissioner of the state's 2,225-inmate corrections system on Jan. 16, 1998.

He headed a staff of 900 and is credited with overcoming the system's overcrowding problem by finding a new site and paving the way for construction of a new prison, according to corrections spokesman John Gifford.

He is survived by his wife, Peggy; twin sons, Matthew and Henry; and a daughter, Amy.

Risley was born in Connecticut. He obtained his bachelor's and master's degrees from Michigan State University and had spent 28 years in the corrections field.

House Speaker Donna Sytek called Risley "the consummate corrections official."

Shaheen praised Risley for starting a program to teach inmates parenting skills.

"He was particularly concerned about young people," she said. "He understood it was important to break the cycle where nearly 70 percent of children of inmates end up incarcerated themselves."

Sytek added: "He was a great leader and a wonderful friend. We will miss him."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Red Cross helping
families of victims

KAILUA-KONA -- Family and friends of the 10 victims of the crash are being given food, shelter and counseling at the victim's assistance and relief center set up at King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel on Alii Drive.

About 20 Red Cross volunteers, including trained grief counselors, are at the center on hand to provide help.

"The American Red Cross is providing support for the family members and response workers as they cope with the trauma and the activity that occurs after an aviation disaster," said Lonnie Kirby, a Red Cross spokesman.

Carole Nervig, a volunteer, said the Red Cross would be available as long as needed by the families. Media were told to stay away from the center and Nervig declined to say how many family members and friends had gathered at the center. "This is a very sensitive time," Nervig said.

"Some of them are really distraught and having a very difficult time," said Mildred Kaneshiro, another volunteer.

Big Island Air started notifying families Saturday night that the plane was missing, said Civil Defense Chief Harry Kim.

Kim said he went to the center yesterday to brief members of two families on the recovery effort.

"Some of the families wanted a government representative," he said.

Route to disaster

The lack of a radioed distress call from the Big Island Air tour plane that crashed on Mauna Loa suggests a tragedy that unfolded suddenly. This is the sequence of events based on radio and other emergency reports.


Bullet 4:22 p.m.: The plane leaves from Keahole Airport in North Kona, headed north and then around the island.
Bullet 5:21 p.m.: The pilot radios from near Kulani cone, 20 miles southwest of Hilo, asking permission to fly over the military Pohakuloa Training Area on his way back to Kona.
Bullet 6:10 p.m.: Big Island Air reports the plane overdue to the Federal Aviation Administration, resulting in an "alert."
Bullet 9:22 p.m.: A Coast Guard helicopter at Pohakuloa does a brief search, assisted by a full moon.


Bullet 5:28 a.m.: The FAA calls county police, who notify fire rescue personnel.
Bullet 5:56 a.m.: A Fire Department helicopter spots the crashed plane.
Bullet 6:30 a.m.: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is notified.

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