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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Pilot in Big Isle crash lacked experience

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

HILO, Hawai'i A pilot who crashed a Piper Warrior tour plane into a hillside near Miloli'i two years ago had flown around the Big Island less than a dozen times, and was relatively inexperienced with the aircraft she was using, according to a fact-finding report by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Pilot Jelica Matic was a certified flight instructor with more than 1,200 hours of total flying time, but she was making her first commercial tour flight and had only about 50 hours of experience with the Piper Warrior she was flying on April 18, 2004, the NTSB report said.

Matic told investigators the Island Hoppers plane was forced down at 4:25 p.m. by a powerful downdraft.

Matic and her two passengers, Dallas and Catherine Ratcliff of West Portsmouth, Ohio, all suffered burns from a fire that ignited after the crash, but all survived.

Matic told an investigator she encountered a powerful downdraft shortly after passing Miloli'i, and that her vertical speed indicator at one point showed the wind was pressing the plane down at a speed of more than 1,000 feet per minute.

The pilot also reported fighting a headwind, and said the wind actually pushed the plane backward as she approached the spot she had chosen to land. Matic said she then pushed the plane to full power, and landed "like a helicopter," the report said.

It took rescuers six hours to find the three, partly because the emergency locator on the plane did not function properly and partly because Matic reported an incorrect location for the crash, according to the report.

The fact-finding report did not give a specific cause for the crash, but the NTSB is expected to issue a final report later that does list a cause.

Reach Kevin Dayton at kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com.