By JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER
HONOLULU — One of the first things the pilot in a fatal crash off Molokai did after being released from the hospital was climb into the cockpit of an airplane.
“I guess it’s part of the healing process,” Clyde Kawasaki said Tuesday in a phone interview from his Kapolei home, describing how he sat at the controls of a Cessna Grand Caravan that’s identical to the one that crashed.
“I got back into the airplane but did not go for a flight.” he said.
Hawaii Health Director Loretta Fuddy, 65, was onboard and died after last week’s crash. Seven other passengers survived without any major injuries when Kawasaki glided the plane to a water landing.
Flying again will require waiting for medical clearances, but Kawasaki said he is eager to get back into the sky.
“It’s a very comfortable environment for me,” he said. “Eventually I will.”
Kawasaki, 60, hit his head on the control panel during the landing after the Makani Kai Air flight took off from Kalaupapa and quickly lost power.
He declined to discuss the crash.
A survivor who swam to shore has praised how Kawasaki was able to maneuver the plane to land on its belly in rough waters. C. Phillip Hollstein Jr. said he credits Kawasaki for being the reason nearly everyone survived.
“We’re very proud that he handled this the way he did,” Makani Kai owner Richard Schuman said Tuesday.
Kawasaki made sure everyone was safely out and wearing a life jacket before he left the aircraft, Schuman said. Kawasaki will be welcomed back on the job when he wants to start flying again, Schuman said.
An autopsy was conducted Friday on Fuddy but results were not yet available, Maui County spokesman Rod Antone said.
Fuddy’s body was flown to Honolulu on Monday. Her funeral is scheduled for Saturday.
The National Transportation Safety Board hopes to pull the plane out of the water after initially thinking it wouldn’t be recoverable.
“I’m highly motivated to recover that aircraft,” Schuman said. “We don’t know what happened. We don’t know why.”
If the plane is recovered, Makani Kai staff will remove the engine under the supervision of NTSB officials, Schuman said.
It will be placed in a box and sealed, with the NTSB likely taking it back to the factory of engine manufacturer Pratt &Whitney, where engineers will take it apart to find out what happened, he said.
Follow Jennifer Sinco Kelleher at http://www.twitter.com/JenHapa .