By AUDREY McAVOY
HONOLULU — Engine failure caused a small commercial plane carrying nine people to crash into the ocean, killing the director of the state’s Health Department, the airline’s owner said Thursday. Eight other people, including the pilot, survived.
Owner Richard Schuman of Makani Kai Air said the pilot did his best to get the single-engine plane down safely and keep the passengers together in the waters off Molokai. Schuman said the pilot told him the engine failed.
The pilot of the 2002 Cessna Grand Caravan was physically OK, said Schuman, who declined to release his name. Little information was available on the conditions of the other passengers.
Maui County officials said the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash that occurred Wednesday and killed Health Director Loretta Fuddy.
The plane, bound for Honolulu, went down about a half-mile northwest of Kalaupapa Peninsula, Maui Fire Department spokesman Lee Mainaga said in a statement. Schuman said the plane had no previous problems.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said investigators spoke with the pilot and some passengers Thursday.
It was Fuddy who released President Barack Obama’s long-form birth certificate in 2011 after he and his personal attorney wrote to Fuddy to make it public and relieve the state from the burden that came with repeated inquiries.
Fuddy, 65, and deputy director Keith Yamamoto were on the flight after an annual visit to Kalaupapa, where the state exiled leprosy patients until 1969.
Tom Matsuda, interim executive director of Hawaii’s health insurance exchange, confirmed Fuddy’s death.
“I cannot even begin to convey what a terrible loss this is for Hawaii,” Matsuda said in a statement. “I worked closely with Director Fuddy on the Affordable Care Act and came to know and respect her as a passionate advocate for public health and a warm, caring human being.”
Gov. Neil Abercrombie said Fuddy was loved and respected. “Her knowledge was vast, her counsel and advice always given from her heart as much as from her storehouse of experience,” he said.