Pilot in crash
was new arrival

A Big Isle tour calls the plane's
operator an "excellent pilot"

Jelica Matic, the pilot of the Island Hoppers tour plane that crashed on the Big Island on Sunday, has been working in Hawaii for less than two weeks.

HILO >> The pilot of the Island Hoppers tour plane that crashed Sunday on the Big Island has been working as a pilot in Hawaii for less that two weeks.

Jelica Matic worked as a flight instructor with the Angel Air Flight Training Center in Chandler, Ariz., from October 2002 until April 5, said Jud Farrer, Angel Air's general manager.

No one at the Big Island-based Island Hoppers would say how many tours Matic had flown for the company before Sunday's accident.

"She's a real good pilot," her husband, Louie, said in a telephone interview yesterday from Arizona.

Matic and her two passengers were badly burned in the crash of the single-engine Piper Warrior in a lava field near Milolii.

Two officials from the National Transportation Safety Board and an official with the Federal Aviation Administration are investigating the crash.

Investigators have not yet been able to determine whether the plane caught fire before or after the crash.

The National Weather Service reports that the weather was overcast and rainy at the time of Sunday afternoon's crash, with winds gusting up to 30 mph. A Coast Guard rescuer said Matic told him a severe downdraft forced the plane down.

The injured people were initially taken to Kona Community Hospital on the Big Island, then airlifted to the Queen's Medical Center in Honolulu Monday morning.

Queen's Medical Center says Matic remains there in serious but stable condition. The two passengers, Dallas and Catherine Ratcliff of West Portsmouth, Ohio, were transferred to Straub Hospital yesterday afternoon, where they are also in serious but stable condition.

"She's (Jelica Matic) OK. She's in intensive care," Louie Matic said.

His wife, who is in her mid-30s, is on a one-year contract with Island Hoppers.

Although Matic lacked experience flying in Hawaii, Farrer called her "an excellent pilot."

"She was one of our senior flight instructors -- very competent and very popular with our students," Farrer said.

Matic was born in Yugoslavia and received her flight training in the United States. Federal Aviation Administration records show that she holds a commercial pilot's license with single- and multi-engine ratings, and is a certified flight instructor.

Star-Bulletin reporter Rosemarie Bernardo contributed to this report.


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