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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 23, 2010

Hawaii fatal crash of ultralight came just minutes into flight

By Diana Leone
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The aircraft that crashed was a motorized hang-glider like this one.

Tedd's Flying Adventures photo

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The Federal Aviation Administration's online database lists four other incidents with the Airborne Outback XT-912 aircraft since 2000:

Aug. 1, 2009: A pilot and passenger were injured in a crash in the mountains 12 miles northwest of Līhu'e, Kaua'i, after the pilot lost control due to wind.

June 15, 2009: Gusts of wind wrecked an aircraft as it was landing in Alamogordo, N.M., but no injuries resulted.

May 17, 2009: An XT-912 was damaged in an aborted takeoff in Newark, Ill. No injuries.

Sept. 6, 2008: A solo pilot was killed in Chelan, Wash., when he lost control of the aircraft for unknown reasons.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Kathryn Grace Moran

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Kathryn Grace Moran had flown over the Big Island many times in a helicopter during the year she worked as a dispatcher and parts clerk for Paradise Helicopters.

But Wednesday, as a 37th birthday present, her friend Tedd Robert Hecklin took her flying on his two-person motorized glider.

It was a flight neither survived.

Hecklin's Airborne Outback XT-912 SST Tundra crashed into Kealakekua Bay at about 9:20 a.m. Wednesday, killing them both.

Steven Kittrell, Moran's boss at Paradise Helicopters, described her as "a real good gal, very friendly, very bubbly. She was good at meeting our passengers and sharing the aloha. We enjoyed having her with us."

Moran had told Kittrell that Hecklin was giving her a flight as a birthday present and she was excited about it, Kittrell said.

Kittrell and other Paradise employees "were out performing maintenance at our hangar" at the Kona airport Wednesday morning when Moran came in. "The maintenance staff sang 'Happy Birthday' to her," and then Moran and Hecklin took off on their pre-arranged flight.

It was several hours later when police arrived at the airport bearing news of the crash, Kittrell said.

But the craft had gone down just minutes after departing Kona International Airport.

Witnesses on boats and kayaks in the bay described a gust of wind seeming to flip the small aircraft upside-down as it flew about 300 feet above the water.

"Like a butterfly landing on a flower, both wings folded in" and the aircraft plummeted down, said Kamalu Hawelu, first mate on a Captain Zodiac snorkeling tour and a first responder to the accident.

Hawelu and others pulled the two from the water and performed cardio-pulmon-ary resuscitation on them for the half-mile boat trip to ambulances waiting at the kayak launch ramp.

Captain Cook Fire Station Capt. Eric Kunimoto praised the boaters for their aid to the crash victims.

Moran and Hecklin were pronounced dead at Kona Community Hospital.

Autopsies have been performed but the police department doesn't expect to release results until next week, Lt. Gerald Wike said yesterday.

The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration had investigators on the Big Island yesterday. Results of an aircraft accident investigation normally aren't available for months, said FAA spokesman Ian Gregor.

Hecklin, 38, was owner of Tedd's Flying Adventures, which offered "powered hang-gliding flights around the Big Island," one passenger at a time, for $100 for 30 minutes or $175 for an hour. He said on his business website that he'd been flying since age 13.

Hecklin held a single-engine private pilot certificate, as well as sport pilot and certified flight instructor certificates, Gregor said. The sport pilot certificate is required to pilot a micro-light vehicle and the flight instructor certificate is required to carry passengers, he said.

Hecklin kept his single motorized glider near Paradise Helicopters' hangar at Kona International Airport and did maintenance work on it there, Kittrell said.

Moran was originally from California, where she has a brother and father, Kittrell said. Her father is expected on the Big Island tomorrow, he said.

It was not known whether Hecklin had family in Hawai'i.

The FAA's online database lists four incidents with the Airborne Outback XT-912 aircraft since 2000. One in Washington state involved a fatality, one accident on Kaua'i caused injuries, and two others on the Mainland resulted in no injuries.

Moran's boss, Kittrell, said he would reserve judgment on the safety of the aircraft until the investigation is complete.

"Ultralights have been around a long time," Kittrell said. "They're not new, not experimental. It would be interesting to see what becomes of this."