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Saturday, May 13, 2000

By Stephanie Coble, Special to the Star-Bulletin
Puunana gate on Molokai is the entrance to the area where a
private jet crashed Wednesday night. People have left flowers
and a note that reads, "Molokai cares. God bless."

airport looks at
safety measures

A runway extension and
land beacons are options
under consideration

Winds may have caused crash

By Treena Shapiro


Improving safety at Molokai airport could mean moving a mountain on one side or impinging on Hawaiian homesteaders on the other, said state Rep. Sol Kahoohalahala, who represents the island.

The airport runway needs to be lengthened, Kahoohalahala said. "The runway ends at the base of the hill (on the east side). That makes it difficult (to land) in a Kona storm."

But the west side is bordered by Hawaiian homestead land, and the homesteaders do not want to give up their land, Kahoohalahala said. State Transportation Director Kazu Hayashida said negotiations to remove a slope on the west side are still under way.

A Wednesday night plane crash, which killed six people, was the fourth fatal accident on Molokai since 1987.

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Another safety measure would be to install an instrument landing system to help pilots land when there is poor visibility. But the project would require approval and funding from state and federal agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration, Kahoohalahala said.

Maui County Mayor James Apana says Molokai needs more lights to help alert pilots to potential dangers during night flights.

Apana's executive assistant, Myles Inokuma, said they are exploring options to make air travel to Molokai safer, such as installing land beacons so pilots can see landmarks when approaching the airport.

John Callahan, a pilot who flies to Molokai frequently, said if a pilot approaches the airport properly, there is no problem. However, the airport's proximity to the mountain creates difficulties.

Callahan said the airport itself is well lit and there are lights on the two hills closest to the runway, but pilots would benefit if lights were installed on all peaks on the west side of the island.

"I think that it would be wonderful if they could have them (beacons), but I don't think it's feasible," Callahan said. "That's pretty rough country to be putting in electric lines."

Federal Aviation Administration inspectors at the crash site may make recommendations for safety precautions at the Molokai airport, said Steve Dahlen, acting manager of the FAA Flight Standards district office.

"If we do feel that safety can be improved or enhanced, we would indeed make that recommendation," he said.

‘Notorious’ wind
currents may have
caused crash

By Gary T. Kubota


KAUNAKAKAI -- In a dedication of a hula stage made of stones on the hills of Kaana, a kumu hula called upon the wind as he and more than a hundred other native Hawaiians celebrated the birthplace of hula on Molokai.

"Then, a gust of wind just came in. It was awesome," recalled kupuna Kia'i Hale of the ceremony about a week ago.

Residents say the wind that blows along the slopes of Kaana in West Molokai can be unpredictably strong. They wonder if it might have contributed to the crash of the privately owned jet that killed six people Wednesday night.

Those listed as aboard the flight from Christmas Island included Colorado resident Macy Price Sr.; his son Macy Jr.; pilot William Marr; his wife, Laurel; and co-pilot Jason Miller, according to U.S. Customs. The sixth person on board has not been named.

Federal officials say they will be relying upon dental records to confirm the identification because the bodies were severely burned.

The Sabreliner 65 jet, en route from Maui to Molokai, came within 100 feet of clearing a slope near the legendary hula site about four to six miles southwest of the Molokai Airport.

Federal air safety investigator Howard Plagens said the air traffic tower at Molokai Airport was closed at 6 p.m., more than 2 hours before the crash, leaving the responsibility of a night landing to the pilot.

The heat from the crash was so intense, the molten metal ran downhill, said Plagens.

Plagens, in charge of the National Transportation Safety Board's investigation, today planned to move the wreckage from the site to Molokai Airport for further examination.

He said he planned to issue a preliminary report about the crash by the end of next week.

Plagens said he has not narrowed the focus of the investigation and will review all possibilities, including pilot error, engine failure and the weather.

He said the fire severely charred the wreckage, making the investigation "very difficult."

Don Williams, who lives at Kaana near the crash site, said the sky was clear but the wind was gusting in excess of 30 miles an hour that night.

"These mountains are notorious for their currents," he said. "We have a lot of air foils."

Williams said that while airplanes sometimes take a southwest approach to the airport, the jet was traveling out of the normal flight path.

Williams and his friend, Stephanie Coble, said they would like to see a warning light put on the mountain ridge to warn pilots about the altitude.

Coble said there is a navigational beacon further west at a lower elevation, but the light was apparently behind the airplane and probably out of view as it approached Molokai Airport.

The engine will be sent to the manufacturer, Honeywell, in Phoenix next week to determine if there was engine trouble, Plagens said.

Plagens said federal officials in Washington, D.C., will be examining the cockpit voice recorder retrieved from the wreckage.

He said the flaps on a wing were down. But he indicated it was too early to determine whether the airplane was climbing or descending at the time of impact.

About six family members of the victims arrived yesterday on Maui.

Maui police officers were assigned to explain to them the circumstances of the crash and collected information from family members that might help in identifying the bodies, Police Lt. Jon Morioka said.

Some family members were expected to arrive on Molokai today.

Coble said she played golf a few times with Price Sr., who visited Molokai several times a year. She described him having good humor and being a physically active man who swam frequently while at his beach house at Papohaku Ranchlands.

She said she felt sad about the crash and cried yesterday evening when she returned to her home and found about 10 bouquets on the gate leading to the crash site.

A number of Molokai residents brought the flowers to express their condolences.

"There were all kinds of flower bouquets on the gate," she said. "I really think it was heartfelt and indicated how the people of Molokai are."

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