FAA suspects engine failure in air crash
The pilot of a Hawai'i Air Ambulance plane that crashed Wednesday on Maui did not report any problems during the flight, company officials said yesterday.
But a preliminary report by the Federal Aviation Administration said the Cessna 414A lost engine power before crashing. The report also said the flight had been cleared for landing before the crash. The FAA did not release additional details of its investigation.
An FAA investigator was at the crash site yesterday, and an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board was en route from California.
The crash killed everyone aboard: pilot Peter Miller, 32, of Kailua; assistant chief flight nurse Brien Eisaman, 37, of Waipahu; and Marlena Yomes, 39, a mobile intensive care technician from Wai'anae. Autopsies are scheduled for today.
The pilot and crew made an earlier trip to Maui in the same plane that day, said Andrew Kluger, chairman and CEO of Hawai'i Air Ambulance.
"The last communication we had — with no indication of any problems — was 7:11 p.m. where Robert Bonham, our other medical director, was in communication with Brien Eisaman, who was our assistant chief flight nurse," Kluger said at a news conference. "At that point, Brien indicated that they had already seen the air field to land. He would get back to Dr. Bonham in a few minutes to discuss the patient. We then ceased contact with the plane and the plane went down between 7:11 p.m. and 7:15 p.m."
The weather conditions were "relatively clear" at the time, he said, and the flight was on "a direct approach" to the Maui airport in Kahului.
The plane slammed into a BMW dealership about a block from the island's busiest intersection — Hana Highway and Dairy Road.
Several witnesses said the Cessna appeared to abort its approach, circling over the Kahului commercial area for another attempt when something went wrong. Kluger would not comment on witness accounts of the crash.
Kluger said the plane was inspected before flying Wednesday. But he grounded the company's four other planes yesterday for inspections that were expected to last through today.
The company requested help from the Coast Guard, which flew two medical rescue missions yesterday using a C-130 to transport a total of seven medical patients to Honolulu from Maui and the Big Island, according to Petty Officer Michael Labine.
The C-130 has a crew of five and Hawaii Air Ambulance is providing medical personnel for each flight, said Labine. It costs the Coast Guard $10,719 per flight hour to use the C-130s, but none of the expense is being passed on to Hawaii Air Ambulance or patients, said Labine.
The Coast Guard medevacs will run through today.
A friend yesterday said Miller was an avid surfer and devoted Christian who began working at Hawai'i Air Ambulance about a year ago with hopes of becoming a commercial airline pilot.
"Peter was a leader in our youth ministry who always opened his house for meetings," said longtime friend Carl Moore, an associate pastor at Hope Chapel Kane'ohe Bay.
"Last summer, he singlehandedly put on a free surf contest at Kailua Beach, hustling prizes for our youth group. The contest was held in memory of his friend Jason Bogle, a pro surfer who died two years ago (from cancer).
"He loved his job because he liked to give and help people," Moore added. "He told me that every time he flew, he prayed with the people on his plane."
Miller, who previously worked as a flight instructor, comes from a family of fliers — his twin brother, Michael, works for Island Air and his father, Emmett, is a retired Aloha Airlines pilot — and his goal was to follow in the footsteps of his father, Moore said.
A colleague described him as an experienced pilot and a flight instructor who had been with Hawai'i Air Ambulance for less than a year. Attempts to reach his father yesterday were unsuccessful.
"It's a humongous loss, a tremendous loss," said Anita Lucas-Legg, the company's chief flight nurse and program director. "Peter was an excellent pilot. I flew with him many times. He will be sorely missed."
Pat Wilson, trauma coordinator for the Mercy Medical Center in Durango, Colo., said Brien Eisaman worked there for about five months as an emergency room nurse. She said he left the job late last year to take the job here with Hawai'i Air Ambulance.
"Brien came to us exceptionally well-qualified from Southern California," Wilson said. "He wanted very much to become a flight nurse and left us, reluctantly, to take the job in Hawai'i." Wilson said Eisaman was not married and did not have children.
Wayne Kruse, field operations supervisor for the Honolulu's Emergency Medical Services division, described Marlena Yomes as a "top-notch paramedic."
"She was probably one of our best, and we were very sorry when she decided to move on" to a different job, Kruse said. "She was an outstanding paramedic."
Patty Dukes, city EMS chief, described Yomes as a "dedicated and caring" paramedic, one who was always passionate about the job and who demonstrated "great care and concern" for the people she helped.
Dukes said Yomes worked as a city paramedic for four or five years before moving to the Mainland with her husband and two children. She said Yomes returned to Hawai'i with her family several years ago and took a private-sector job.
Wednesday's crash was the second fatal incident for the 27-year-old air ambulance company. On Jan. 31, 2004, a Cessna 414A crashed on the Big Island, killing all three on board. Kluger said the timing of the crashes "was not indicative of anything."
The NTSB has not issued a final report on a probable cause of that crash.
The Cessna that crashed Wednesday was purchased to replace the plane that crashed in 2004. It was built in 1978. "No, it was not new but it was in good condition, rarely used," Kluger said.
Kluger said the company has an "excellent safety record" and is regularly inspected by the FAA. "Our maintenance records are of the highest quality in terms of the industry and meeting all federal regulations and standards," he said.Advertiser Neighbor Island editor Christie Wilson and staff writer Rod Ohira contributed to this report.
Correction: Hawai'i Air Ambulance pilot Peter A. Miller, who died in a crash Wednesday, was a member of Hope Chapel Kane'ohe Bay. A previous version of this story named another church.