10 die when small plane smashes into Hawaii volcano

Monday, September 27th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

scoured the smoky wreckage of a twin-engine plane searching for the
bodies of 10 people killed following Hawaii's worst air disaster in
a decade.

The wreckage of the Big Island Air plane was spotted early
Sunday about 9,800 feet up the Mauna Loa Volcano, an active volcano
that soars to 13,600 feet.

Some victims were badly burned and parts of the wreckage so
charred that they "just disintegrated" in the hands of recovery
crews, said Doug Lentz of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, in which
the volcano is located.

"There was a lot of dismemberment and it was very difficult to
discern all the bodies," Lentz said. "There is some confusion as
to whether we have all the bodies."

The bodies were taken to Hilo Hospital, which said it had
remains for only nine victims, Lentz said.

Rescuers said the twin-engine Piper Navajo Chieftain slid about
75 yards, rolled over and burned, but remained mostly intact, said
Gail Minami, the park's operations supervisor.

The twin-engine Piper Navajo Chieftain was reported overdue at
Kona International Airport at 7:20 p.m. Saturday, said Marilyn
Kali, spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation.

The last contact from the plane came at 5:21 p.m., one hour
after it took off from the airport, and the pilot did not say there
were any problems at that time, Minami said.

The fact there was no distress call means the pilot could have
smashed into jagged lava without warning, Minami said. "It was a
hard landing, a hard impact," she said.

"This is a shock to us," said Roy Mann, Big Island Air's
director of operations. "It just simply hurts. Our hearts and our
prayers go out to all those families that have been impacted by
this whole thing."

Mann declined to release any information about the passengers.
He also declined to name the pilot but said that person had more
than 10,000 hours of flight experience.

Officials from the Federal Aviation Administration and National
Transportation Safety Board were due at the crash site today. The
Army's Central Identification Laboratory, which normally works on
identifying remains of missing servicemen, was asked to assist.

The plane was one of two owned by Big Island Air, a 14-year-old
tour company based in Kailua-Kona. The eight-seater was built in

Since a good part of the island is inaccessible by car, air
tours are a popular way to see the island and its active volcanoes.
Helicopters and small planes fly near bubbling summits and then
over nearby valleys to see rainbows and waterfalls.

The crash was Hawaii's worst since Oct. 28, 1989, when an Island
Air DHC-6 Twin Otter crashed on the island of Molokai, killing 20

Since 1974, there have been five fatal air crashes in and around
the park, killing 43 people.