Investigators sift through clues to pinpoint cause of Lanai crash

A view of the crash site Thursday.

Full Story: 3 dead, 3 injured after plane crashes on Lanai

Investigators have arrived on Lanai to try and find out why a plane crashed Wednesday night, killing two Maui county workers and the pilot. For the first time, investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were at the scene of the crash, canvassing the wreckage and looking for clues to what went wrong.

Although an official cause may be months away, they are inching closer to an answer. Officials say there are a couple of factors working in their favor that will be helpful in determining what caused the crash. There are survivors who will likely be able to help with the investigation and officials say all components of the plane have also been recovered.

The Piper twin engine plane crashed on a field about a mile south east of Lanai airport. A spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board says investigators are combing through the scene and all the major parts of the plane have been recovered, ruling out some of the possibilities.

“There’s nothing missing,” said NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson. “There wasn’t sort of a malfunction in flight where a flight control surface became separated or another component became separated from the aircraft, so yes that’s one of the things they’re trying to eliminate.

Knudson says the plane left a debris field more than 500 feet long, meaning it slid that far after it hit the ground. “The fuselage is at the end of that debris field so about 500 feet beyond where the aircraft initially struck the ground is where the aircraft cabin came to a rest,” he said. That means the plane came down at a sharp angle as opposed to going straight down.

Investigators will also be looking at how much pilot Richard Rooney had been flying in the last few days and the weather conditions during the crash.

George Balberdi, whose wife Tremaine died from the crash, had questioned whether the pilot should have flown because of the windy conditions, but some pilots say the Piper Twin engine Cessna can withstand windy conditions especially by an experienced pilot like Rooney.

“Pilots are trained to do this type of flying and they practice it all the time,” said George Hanzawa of George’s Aviation.

A preliminary report on the crash is expected in about 10 days, but it will probably take about a year before the investigation is completed.

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