Stricken aircraft's wings folded 'like a butterfly landing on a flower'
Advertiser Staff, Stephens Media
Witnesses to yesterday's deadly crash of a microlight aircraft in Kealakekua Bay described an unfolding scene of disbelief, shock and desperation to Stephens Media reporters Erin Miller of West Hawaii Today and John Burnett of the Hawaii Tribune Herald.
Two people were killed. The pilot of the craft has been identified as Tedd Robert Hecklin, 38, owner of Tedd's Flying Adventure in Kailua, Kona. His passenger was Kathryn Grace Moran, 37, of Kailua, Kona.
The accounts, taken from a story in West Hawaii Today, begin with Kealakekua Bay resident Gordon Leslie:
"We were watching (the craft) fly," Leslie said. "All of the sudden, his wings just folded."
Leslie, who was offshore in the bay, as were at least two Zodiac tour boats, headed to the crash site and helped pull Hecklin and Moran from the water.
The aircraft crashed about 300 feet from shore, in about 150 feet of water, Leslie said. The craft was above the cliffs along the shoreline, which he estimated to be about 700 feet high.
Eyewitnesses on commercial boat tours said the tiny aircraft was banking left when they heard a loud popping sound, saw the plane's wing fold up, and then watched as it plunged into the ocean.
"I looked up and I saw the ultralight," said Kamalu Kawelu of Captain Zodiac. "And then, while I was looking up, I saw them doing a flip and it looked like a draft of air went right up the hillside and flipped them upside down, literally. ... When they went upside down, that's when their wing shut like a butterfly landing on a flower."
Kawelu said her boat and another zodiac, from Dolphin Discoveries, rushed to the crash scene, which she estimated at about a half-mile from the shore, while witnesses called 911.
"I dove into the water," she said. "The water was full of gasoline burning my skin. I grabbed the man, who was floating. I secured his neck. He groaned once and ... passed out, stopped breathing, everything.
"The smell of gasoline was so strong I thought it might blow up, so I started swimming away from the area."
Kawelu said Moran floated to the surface from the sinking wreckage. The two boats transported the fatally injured people to the boat ramp.
Kawelu said Hecklin "was broken everywhere" and that Moran's face was split open. Kawelu said she performed CPR on Hecklin, while a kayaker who identified himself as a nurse performed CPR on Moran.
"I never stopped," she said. "I prayed that the people up on the pier could handle it just a minute longer, because we heard the ambulance in the parking lot. ... We had to get out of the way so the other Zodiac could come to the pier."
Captain Cook Fire Station Capt. Eric Kunitomo commended the boat crews and the off-duty nurse who happened to be visiting the bay yesterday morning.
Firefighters were called to the bay at about 9:30 a.m., about 20 minutes after the aircraft left Kona International Airport.
Hecklin and Moran were taken to Kona Community Hospital, where they were pronounced dead.
On the Net:
Read the complete story in West Hawaii Today: http://www.westhawaiitoday.com/articles/2010/04/22/local/local02.txt