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Federal team will try to lift crashed plane from seafloor

By Sarah Zoellick, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Dec. 17--The National Transportation Safety Board said Monday it plans to recover the plane that crashed off Kalaupapa last week with eight passengers aboard, including Department of Health Director Loretta Fuddy, who died after safely evacuating the aircraft.

Spokesman Eric Weiss said a helicopter spotted what's suspected to be the downed Cessna Grand Caravan about 400 to 500 yards off the north shore of Molokai at a depth of about 60 to 70 feet. The agency initially said recovery would be unlikely because the wreckage, belonging to Makani Kai Air, was thought to be at a greater depth.

Makani Kai owner Richard Schuman said he was pleased to hear of the development.

"The first, most important thing is to focus on the passengers that are still here, the passengers' well-being -- that's my main concern right now," Schuman said. "And the second concern is to get the aircraft up out of the water and its engine removed and sent back to the manufacturer for inspection."

In light of the pilot telling Schuman that the aircraft had "catastrophic engine failure" shortly after takeoff, Weiss said the NTSB is also eager to pluck it from the ocean floor.

"Obviously, we want to recover the airplane," he said. "We're interested in looking at the engine."

The NTSB had assumed the 42-foot single-engine plane was a loss after the Wednesday crash partly because of Hawaii's unique ocean landscape.

"The geography of Hawaii is (such) that shortly off the coast, the land disappears dramatically into many, many fathoms deep," said Weiss, who spoke to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser by phone from Washington, D.C. "But this plane ... even 400 to 500 yards out, because of the peculiar geography of this particular point, (is) still on the shelf."

A 200-foot recovery vessel is scheduled to leave Honolulu Harbor tonight and work to recover the plane Thursday, Weiss said. It's not known how long the process could take.

Weiss said Makani Kai's insurance company is reportedly paying for the recovery effort, but Schuman said those details have yet to be fully worked out.

"It's a very costly recovery, and I am not looking at this as what it costs," Schuman said. "It needs to be done, so we're going to get it done."

Weiss cautioned that the wreckage has not yet been positively identified as the aircraft involved in the crash. It's also not guaranteed to still be there when recovery efforts commence.

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"There's still a lot of steps to go," he said. "So there's still many questions that remain."

The NTSB routinely investigates crashes without being able to examine the aircraft involved, Weiss said last week, and the investigator dispatched to Hawaii was confident at that time that he could carry on without taking a look at the plane.

The NTSB also has experience in retrieving bits of airplanes from great depths of the Pacific Ocean. With the help of the Navy, the agency recovered a cargo door that blew off United Flight 811 just after takeoff from Honolulu Airport in 1989, killing nine passengers who were ejected from the Boeing 747.

The cargo door was recovered in two pieces from the ocean floor at a depth of 14,200 feet on Sept. 26 and Oct. 1, 1990, according to NTSB reports.

The door's recovery allowed the NTSB to come up with a probable cause of the accident being attributed to a faulty switch or wiring that suddenly opened the cargo door, causing an explosive decompression.

In the Makani Kai case, Maui officials have not yet released an official cause of death for Fuddy, who witnesses say made it out of the plane safely but became unresponsive while awaiting rescue. An autopsy was conducted Friday.

Her body was returned home to Oahu on Monday morning and was given honors at the airport. Services for Fuddy have been set for Saturday at the Co-Cathedral of St. Theresa, 712 N. School St. in Kalihi, where she was an active member. Visitation will begin at 9 a.m. with Mass starting at 11 a.m. and a private burial to follow.

In lieu of flowers, donations are suggested to the March of Dimes and Hawaiian Humane Society. Hawaiian Memorial Park is handling arrangements; online condolences can be left at www.hawaiianmemorialparkmortuary.com.

Fuddy was born in Honolulu and is survived by her brother Lewis P. Jr.; sisters Cynthia Bunch and Lynette Schaefer; nieces Michelle Bains, Brandi Fuddy, Kimberlee Greer, Wendy Roberts-Reed and Amanda McMillian; nephews Robert Roberts Jr. and Masi Schaefer; and many grandnieces and grandnephews.

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(c)2013 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Visit The Honolulu Star-Advertiser at www.staradvertiser.com

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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