By JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER, Associated Press
HONOLULU (AP) — A small plane crashed and burst into flames shortly after takeoff from Hawaii's Lanai island, killing three people and leaving three others injured, authorities said Thursday.
The crash occurred around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday about a mile from Lanai Airport in the Miki Basin area, Maui County spokesman Rod Antone said.
The plane, a twin-engine Piper PA31, burned upon impact, according to Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor. The tail number is listed as N483VA.
Authorities said that they believe everyone aboard the aircraft has been accounted for.
Maui County identified the dead as the pilot of the plane and two Department of Planning employees. Two other planning employees were in critical condition and the deputy attorney for Corporation Counsel, the agency that provides legal services for the county, was in serious condition Thursday morning, according to a nursing supervisor at Queen's Medical Center and the county. All three survivors were airlifted to the Honolulu hospital. No names were released.
Lanai is part of Maui County, and it's common for county officials to travel frequently between the islands via plane or ferry.
The group had been on Lanai earlier that evening to staff a Lanai Planning Commission meeting and chartered a return flight on Maui Air, the county said.
"The man who called 911, the deputy attorney for Corporation Counsel, said he had pulled two of his co-workers away from the fire as best he could because they could not move on their own," the county said in a news release. "All three survivors suffered burn injuries."
At a news conference Thursday, Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa choked back tears, calling the crash a tragedy.
"We're a very small community. Everybody knows each other. Everybody works with each other." he said.
Fire Services Chief Lee Mainaga said the "aircraft down" call came at 9:25 a.m. At first, fire crews didn't see anything when they got to the airport. Then they located the aircraft about a mile south of the airport, in former pineapple land with grass about two-feet high, he said.
Emergency responders received help accessing the grassy area from workers of a general contracting company, Goodfellows Bros., Inc., the company said in a statement.
The plane was "fully engulfed," Mainaga said.
Firefighters extinguished the fire while police tended to the victims.
Lanai City resident Russell deJutley, 20, said he drove to within about 600 feet of the site when he heard about the crash. "I noticed there was smoke coming from the airplane," he said. The area was difficult to find — about a mile from a paved road, he said.
Police spokesman Lt. William Juan said names of the victims wouldn't be immediately released.
State Sen. J. Kalani English, who represents Lanai, said the crash and a December ocean crash-landing off Molokai highlights how often government officials need to fly. Hawaii Health Director Loretta Fuddy was a passenger on the Dec. 11 flight that took off from Molokai's Kalaupapa peninsula. Maui police said autopsy results show she died of cardiac arrhythmia, which was the result of stress from crashing into the water after the single-engine plane lost power.
"These flights are very familiar to me," said English, who flies frequently between Oahu, Maui, Molokai and Lanai. Inter-island travel is especially common for officials in Maui County, which includes Molokai and Lanai.
"It's one of the hazards of our topography, being a multi-island county and district," he said. "Hawaii has very, very safe airports and very, very safe flight routes. For us, I mean government officials, because we have to fly so much to these areas, the probability goes up."
According to an agenda, the meeting at the Lanai Senior Center discussed Lanai's community plan. English said the two staffers who died were women and the three survivors are men.