Searchers find wreckage of submerged aircraft

Monday, August 28th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HILO, Hawaii (AP) -- The submerged wreckage of a tour plane that may contain the body of a missing Oklahoma woman has been found with sonar off Hawaii Island.

Laveta Rose Reynolds, 61, of Collinsville, Okla., was the only one of nine people aboard the twin-engine plane not rescued after it crashed in the ocean Friday evening about 200 yards from Honoli`i Point.

An effort to recover the wreckage from 80 to 100 feet of water would be made Monday, National Transportation Safety Board investigator Robert Crispin said. The wreckage was found Sunday.

There was no indication Reynolds got out of the plane before it sank, he said.

Honolulu television station KITV quoted unidentified sources as saying Reynolds may have panicked and inflated her life jacket while still aboard the plane, hampering her ability to escape from the sinking aircraft.

Her husband, James Reynolds, 64, and the seven other survivors were released Saturday from Hilo Medical Center. Also surviving the crash were pilot Nick 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.

The 10-seat Piper Navajo Chieftain owned by tour and charter company Big Island Air ditched in the ocean about four miles from Hilo International Airport.

Crispin said Damis set the plane down in the water because one of its engines was on fire and it didn't have enough power to get to the airport.

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 Damis' actions "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.

The Reynoldses were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary with the trip to Hawaii, family members said. They had been planning the trip for two years.