Tuesday, September 28, 1999

Air officials
aim to reach
crash site

An expert says a warning
device might have
saved the plane

Bullet Witness saw smoke from plane
Bullet Cayetano offers sympathy
Bullet Victim 'fought to get seat'
Bullet Air industry safety record

By Rod Thompson
Big Island correspondent


HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK -- A device called a ground proximity warning system might have told the pilot of the Piper Navajo Chieftain that crashed Saturday that he was about to hit Mauna Loa.

National Transportation Safety Board member John Hammerschmidt said yesterday that such devices have long been used on commercial jet aircraft.

He declined to say how appropriate it would be to have one on a relatively small plane like the Chieftain, but he noted that the technology is changing.

Earlier ground proximity warning devices relied on radar to tell a pilot a plane was too close to the ground.

A new "enhanced" version of the device is different. It starts with a global positioning system which uses satellites to tell a pilot where he is on -- or above -- the face of the Earth.

Then the device compares that information with known information about local topography. About 95 percent of the earth has been topographically mapped, he said.

Associated Press
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park rangers yesterday searched the
site of a tour plane crash on Mauna Loa. Investigators from the
National Transportation Safety Board were due at the crash site
to begin the work of finding out what caused the twin-engine
Piper Navajo Chieftain to crash Saturday during a round-
the-island tour, killing all 10 people on board.

Hammerschmidt spoke yesterday at a news conference at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where a base of operations for the federal officials is being set up.

Two members of a seven-person federal team were hoping to fly in two helicopters to the 9,800-foot elevation of Mauna Loa at first light today, said park ranger Mardie Lane.

Lane said bad weather halted plans to fly to the crash site yesterday.

"It was fogged in," Lane said. "Those clouds rolled in later this afternoon (yesterday) and there was nil visibility."

It was the same kind of weather that hit the mountain Saturday afternoon and may have contributed to the accident.

If all goes well, the work of gathering information could be completed in two or three days, Hammerschmidt said.

"We're beginning to put the pieces of the puzzle together," he said.

That probably won't mean putting the pieces of the shattered plane together. "I don't know right now if we'll need any of the wreckage," he said. "Typically you may see certain components shipped back to Washington, D.C."

Representatives of Lycoming, which made the plane's two engines, and Piper, which made the plane, will join the team. Enough information on the engines may be obtained at the crash site to make removing them from the mountain unnecessary, he said.

Although willing to disclose facts, Hammerschmidt said he didn't want to get into any analysis.

"It's a fairly contained wreckage," he said. "That makes it easier from an investigative standpoint. The type of ground impact will tell us quite a bit. That gets into analysis. We're gathering facts right now."

Two investigators had looked at preliminary photos of the crash. "There was a heavy crush at the front of the aircraft," he said. "There might be some damage to the instrument panel."

The team was also told that the plane had a global positioning system device attached to the yoke -- essentially the steering wheel -- of the aircraft.

If it survived, it could contain information in its memory that showed the precise route of the aircraft.

Although Big Island Air supplied the team with the typical route the plane would follow, no one knows the exact route it took, which led it to crash at such a high altitude.

Tom Rea, Pacific Representative for Federal Aviation Administration, said that the 14-year-old Big Island Air Tours had only two letters of correction in the agency's files.

"These did not involve major safety issues as far as we could see," Rea said, "and they were immediately corrected."

Rea said he couldn't release the information without a written request, but "they were not major deficiencies."

He said that all of the company's records were current, as were the licenses of its pilots.

Witness saw smoke
come from plane

By Gregg K. Kakesako


One Big Island resident believes the Piper Chieftain may have had engine trouble before it crashed into Mauna Loa on Saturday.

All 10 people on board the tour plane were killed.

James Turner said he was sitting on the lanai of his home in Waikeauka subdivision outside of Hilo just before 5 p.m. when he noticed "a reddish-looking Piper" banking away from the clouds.

"All of a sudden it looked like it stalled," said Turner, 35, "then a puff of smoke came out of the tail section near the right side of the plane. ... The smoke was brownish."

Turner said he didn't hear anything because "those planes are generally very quiet."

Once the plane entered the cloud cover Turner said he never saw it again.

Although Saturday was fairly clear in the morning, Turner said, by mid-day a dark cloud cover had draped over the extinct volcanoes of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea.

"The mountain was ominous and the clouds by then were black looking," he added. "There was a wall of low clouds. It was spooky looking. They (clouds) were gray to dark black."

Cayetano offers sympathy
to families

Star-Bulletin staff


Gov. Ben Cayetano offered his sympathy to the families of the crash victims.

"As aviation officials piece together the events that resulted in Saturday's Big Island air disaster, our hearts go out to the families and friends of the 10 individuals whose lives were cut so tragically short.

"The first lady and I extend our deepest condolences during this painful period of loss. It is our hope that the prayers and aloha of our community will strengthen and sustain our neighbors in the difficult days ahead. We will do everything possible to assist surviving relatives in their time of need."

Irony: Victim ‘fought
to get that seat’

Kona resident Wade Abac wanted to
check the flow of lava so he would be
better at selling visitor tours

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
and Mary Adamski


Kona resident Wade Abac "fought to get that seat" aboard the ill-fated Big Island Air twin-engine plane late Saturday to better present tour packages to potential customers.

A woman who identified herself only as "Ashlyn" described Abac, her co-worker, as "a great guy with high energy and great with people."

Abac was among the 10 people people killed Saturday in the crash of a Piper Navajo Chieftain on the slopes of Mauna Loa.

Ashlyn recalled how Abac had her arrive at work early Saturday so he could get on the flight.

Following the recent shift in lava flow patterns at Kilauea Volcano, Ashlyn said, "he was checking out the flow of the volcano so he could better sell the tours."

Like Abac, Ashlyn has been an activity consultant at the Activity World counter at the Aston Keauhou Beach Resort, pitching tour packages to Kona visitors. The flights offered by Big Island Air were among the offerings.

Families have been notified

"He was a great guy; he'll be greatly missed," Ashlyn said.

Family members of Abac, originally from Maui, declined to comment.

The families of nine of the 10 people aboard the Chieftain have been notified and the remains of all 10 people on board have been accounted for, said national park ranger Mardie Lane.

The park will be in charge of officially releasing the names, and that cannot be done until dental records or other means are used to confirm the identities of the people on board the plane, said park Superintendent Jim Martin.

The identities of some of the dead have begun to trickle out, though. Besides Abac, they include:

Bullet Henry Risley, 53, New Hampshire corrections director.
Bullet Risley's stepmother, Norah Risley, 71, of Vershire, Vt.
Bullet David Bailey Sr., 55, of San Jose.
Bullet His son, David Bailey Jr., 27, of San Jose.
Bullet David Bailey Jr.'s wife, Dana, 26.
Bullet A tourist from Thailand.
Bullet Two tourists from either Australia or New Zealand.
Bullet The pilot.

David Bailey Sr.'s wife, Bobbie, did not get on the fatal flight. She told her husband, son and daughter-in-law she wouldn't be joining them on the sightseeing plane trip around the Big Island because she was fearful of flying.

"I waved and told them 'Bye,' and told them, 'Now you guys be careful and have fun.' " Mrs. Bailey said. "They all had smiles on their faces, said, 'We will.' "

"So they left without me. And ... they still left without me," she said.

Officials at Hilo Hospital initially thought one person was missing from the remains recovered Sunday. The impression arose because of the state of the remains.

"This is the most complex identification I have dealt with," Martin said. "We don't have things we normally associate with the human anatomy."

Counseling is provided

Mental health professionals are among the American Red Cross volunteers assisting the families of the crash victims.

"We provide every kind of support that is needed including mental health counseling," said Lonnie Kirby of the Hawaii Red Cross chapter, which is operating the family assistance center at the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel in Kailua-Kona.

The counseling service will be extended to members of the emergency crews working at the scene of the crash, Kirby said.

"Everyone involved will need to debrief formally or informally. The workers themselves need to have time to debrief."

He declined to say how many family members of the victims have arrived, saying: "We provide confidential support in a private setting."

Two adult children of a mainland man killed in the crash were expected to arrive today and a relative of a victim from Thailand is also expected, according to the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii.

The society, which usually assists visitors who fall victim to crimes or accidents while here, just organized a Big Island operation this month, said executive Darrell Large.

Much of the group's usual assistance, such as organizing accommodations, is not required because of the Red Cross operation, he said.

Large planned to meet family members when they arrive in Honolulu and accompany them to interisland flights.

"Our volunteers will simply be there if they want to get out of the hotel, if they want to drive up to the mountain as part of the healing process, even though they cannot go to the crash site," Large said.

"We'll help them with mortuary arrangements, whatever they need. ... We want to let them know the people of Hawaii are here to assist them however they can."

Big Island correspondent Rod Thompson and
the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Air tour industry safety
record touted

Star-Bulletin staff


The air tour industry generally has a good safety record and meets a demand that is unlikely to diminish despite the fatal crash, a Big Island business official says.

"When you look at how many people are flying, it is safer than driving a car," said Marnie Herkes, president of the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce. "The big picture is that the safety record is quite good.

"We certainly see major cooperation and compliance in this industry," she said. "Safety is in their best interest. Across the board, I think they police each other fairly well."

Herkes said publicity about a plane crash affects the whole industry but "I don't see any long-term negative impacts. The flight tour industry fulfills some of that wish to see other parts of the island and wilderness areas they can't get to any other way. Especially on the Big Island, this is a hard place to see everything."

She said the flight tour industry is a significant part of the tourism trade. "In the chamber, we get no complaints from visitors or residents who use these services."

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