FAA investigating flight of 747 jet over Waikiki
By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer
China Airlines said yesterday the 747 jet that Waikiki residents complained about Saturday morning was on a normal approach to Honolulu International Airport dictated by the weather and the Federal Aviation Administration controllers at the airport.
And, spokesman Joseph Woo said in Taipei, preliminary investigation by the FAA does not match the description from residents who said the plane came within 30 feet of the 41-story Century Center condominium.
However, State Transportation Department spokeswoman Marilyn Kali said aircraft normally come in over the ocean, "and even in Kona weather they should never be over Waikiki."
A spokesman for Gov. Linda Lingle said yesterday she has expressed concern about the incident and is awaiting more information from the FAA investigation.
FAA regional representative Tweet Coleman said yesterday the pilot of the CAL jet was on a visual approach, and was therefore allowed to set his own course rather than follow the dictates of an instrument approach. Visual approaches are quite common in Hawai'i because of its usually clear weather, she said.
Coleman said "we will have a couple of inspectors tomorrow reviewing the radar charts and so on, and listening to (communication) tapes. It is still under investigation."
FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer said the Boeing 747 was less than a mile off course, "on a different approach than would have been normal," but apparently not as close as some residents reported.
Kenitzer said the plane normally would have remained on course above the ocean, but he would not speculate why it flew farther inland. He said the FAA's preliminary findings are "not in concert with some of the things we're hearing from the general public."
Residents continued to insist the approach was an extremely unusual one.
"I, too, was jolted from a sound sleep to the monster roar of the 747 aircraft approaching the Ala Wai Skyrise Condominium," Waikiki resident Alan Ball said. "The FAA does need to investigate this mishap and make sure that it never happens again.
"The plane did indeed pass between 100 and 200 feet above this 40-story condo and continued to descend over downtown Honolulu. It was remarkable that the plane did not hit any buildings in the downtown area."
A resident of a low-rise three-story apartment near Kapi'olani Park said the roar "scared the dickens out of me."
"My louvers were vibrating, and my second thought was it was terrorists, and I just lay there, too afraid to get out of bed," said Betty Rodriguez, a former state park guide at Diamond Head. "The only other time I have heard that amount of noise in Waikiki was when they have the missing man formation" in which jet fighters streak low over the city during Memorial Day and Veterans Day observances, she said.
John Carroll, a former Hawaiian Airlines pilot and head of a company that supplies pilots to foreign airlines, said reports of the 747 coming near buildings in Waikiki indicate "just how vulnerable this city would be to a terrorist attack" like that of Sept. 11, 2001.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, authorities here said they would use Hawai'i Air National Guard fighters, if necessary, to shoot down any incoming flight that appeared to be being used as a terrorist weapon. The guard had not responded late yesterday as to whether the China Airlines jet's flight path triggered any alarms.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.