HONOLULU — After a 70-year-old Hawaii man survived a flight that crash-landed in Hawaii waters, he swam about a half-mile in 6-foot waves to Molokai’s rugged shoreline, thinking the eight others aboard the small commercial plane were fine bobbing in their life vests, awaiting rescue.
C. Phillip Hollstein Jr. said Friday he was surprised to learn later that one of the travelers was killed, Hawaii Health Director Loretta Fuddy. The others on board suffered only minor injuries.
When the lone engine of the small plane failed, the nine people on board stayed calm as the aircraft glided toward the ocean and made a remarkably smooth belly landing, Hollstein recounted.
He said the pilot, Clyde Kawasaki, expertly maneuvered the plane after the engine failed, avoiding what could have been a catastrophic impact on the water.
“He did everything right,” Hollstein said. “He set it up for the best crash-landing you could do.”
The engine on Makani Kai Air’s 2002 Cessna Grand Caravan turboprop cut out less than a minute after takeoff from the island of Molokai on Wednesday afternoon, just as the plane was making a turn toward its destination of Honolulu, Hollstein said. There was a “muffled bang,” he said, and “then we were a glider.”
“Everyone was real quiet. We hit (the water), and it was all about getting the belts off,” Hollstein said. People put on life jackets and remained in the plane until it started sinking, he said.
“There wasn’t panic or anything. It was very orderly. It wasn’t like any of the movies or the TV shows,” Hollstein said.
Hollstein swam for shore when he saw that everyone was out of the plane, guessing it took 90 minutes.
Fuddy, who gained attention after deciding to publicly release President Barack Obama’s Hawaii birth certificate in 2011 to rebut claims he was not born in the U.S., was clinging to the hand of her deputy, Keith Yamamoto.
Yamamoto tried to help the 65-year-old relax, according to the Rev. Patrick Killilea, who consoled Yamamoto after the crash.
“He recounted how he said he helped Loretta into her life jacket, and he held her hand for some time,” the priest said. “They were all floating together, and she let go and there was no response from her.”
Hollstein said Fuddy was doing fine during the landing and getting out of the airplane.
“Her assistant was really watching her. He was taking care of her,” he said.
Results from the autopsy on Fuddy have not been completed, but her cause of death will be made public when the report is finished, Maui County spokesman Rod Antone said.
Kawasaki, a 60-year-old veteran pilot, and the other passengers were pulled from the water by rescuers. Kawasaki was flown to Honolulu, and when his son, Robert Kawasaki, met him at the airport, he still was wearing his wet pants.
Makani Kai Air owner Richard Schuman said he has no idea why the engine failed. The plane had no previous problems, he said.