Divers recover body of Oklahoma woman

Tuesday, August 29th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HILO, Hawaii (AP) -- Divers have recovered the body of an Oklahoma woman who died after the small tour plane she was riding in crashed in waters off Hilo last week.

Eight of the nine people on board the Big Island Air Piper Navajo Chieftain were rescued after the pilot landed the plane four miles north of Hilo near Honoli`i Beach on Friday.

The body of Laveta Rose Reynolds, 61, was recovered from the plane -- submerged in 85-foot-deep water about 200 yards offshore -- at 1:30 p.m. Monday.

Later in the afternoon, a Sikorsky helicopter pulled the wreckage from the ocean. But strong currents complicated the task, and the water-laden plane was dragged over the ocean surface to shore in a rocky cove, where it remained into the evening.

Part of the plane's tail section broke off as crews tried to lift the plane from knee-deep water in the cove.

Pilot Nick Damis made the emergency water landing after the twin-engine plane's right engine caught fire. The plane did not have enough power to get to Hilo International Airport, National Transportation Safety Board investigator Robert Crispin said.

Crispin said Reynolds, of Collinsville, Okla., may have panicked and inflated her life jacket before the plane went down, hampering her ability to escape from the sinking aircraft.

"It doesn't allow the person the option of being able to duck down into the water if the emergency exit happens to be below water level," Crispin said.

Recovery crews on Sunday located the plane using sonar.

The eight survivors were released from Hilo Medical Center on Saturday. The included James Reynolds, 64, the husband of the victim.

Also surviving the crash were Damis, 33, of Kailua-Kona; Paul Kemper, 23, of Waimea, Hawaii; Daoud Srouji, 66, of San Francisco; and Alvin Taylor, 66, Oretha Taylor, 61, Angela Taylor, 30, and Lori Taylor, 27, all of Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

Fellow pilots in Hilo praised Damis' action, saying he used the best judgment possible.

Kyle Burnett, chief pilot of an Astra SPX twin-engine jet, called the water landing "heroic," and said, "It's just like a captain going down with his ship."

Damis was "very calm and very professional," said commuter pilot Mike Fujimoto, who was on the same radio frequency with Damis and circled the downed plane for 20 minutes until a rescue helicopter arrived.

"The pilot did a very skillful job of ditching that airplane,"

Fujimoto said.