A small plane landed in the ocean Tuesday afternoon after encountering problems off Honolulu.
Officials say the pilot, a 68-year-old man from Australia, took off from Honolulu International Airport in a twin-engine Cessna 337, tail number N22DG, around 11:55 a.m. for John Rodgers Field when he alerted the airport tower 20 minutes later that something was wrong.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the pilot was unable to get the landing gear down. Officials say he even flew past the tower to show crews on the ground the issue.
The plane was held over the airport for two hours to burn fuel, and the pilot was given the choice to make an emergency landing on the runway or in the water.
He opted for a water landing. A DOT spokesman said the aircraft landed on a seaplane runway around 1:55 p.m. He was the only person on board.
The Honolulu Fire Department said rescue crews happened to be conducting a training exercise in the area, and were readily available to help him. The scene was frantic on the water since crews couldn’t predict exactly where the pilot would land.
Once the plane came to a stop, witnesses burst into cheers and first responders sprung into action.
Some called the pilot a lucky man, and said it could have been much worse.
“At least he has his life and he can go from there. He can always get a new airplane, but you can’t replace pilots,” said Sean Rita, who saw the incident.
According to Emergency Medical Services, the pilot was treated at the scene and did not need to be taken to the hospital.
“Fortunately, this gentleman didn’t have one scratch on him,” said Shayne Enright, Honolulu Emergency Services spokeswoman. “He actually told me to tell all you guys all he wanted to do was call his wife, so it’s a happy ending. Everybody did a great job and we’re very, very fortunate here today.”
Hawaiian Airlines says two of its flights were affected: HA317 (KOA-HNL) and HA181 (ITO-HNL) which was diverted to Kahului.
As of Wednesday, the aircraft is still in the water, and the U.S. Coast Guard says it’s working with the pilot to get the plane out of the water. Officials say the plane had 60 gallons of fuel on board, which does not pose a major hazard to the environment.
Aviation experts believe the pilot made the right decision to land in the water. In fact, Keehi Lagoon offers good conditions for pilots.
While a water landing is not something you see everyday, in Hawaii, a large majority of these landings end successfully with the pilot walking, or swimming, away.
The twin-engine Cessna 337 has an engine in the front and in the back.
George Hanzawa of George’s Aviation said the pilot’s front engine was not working, and the landing gear was not out.
“He had the option of landing it on the runway itself and just basically skidding down the runway or landing in the water,” said George Hanzawa of George’s Aviation. “He made the decision to put it in the water, which was the right decision because he’s safe and sound.”
Aviation expert Peter Forman said if the landing gear was down, the Cessna would have decelerated very quickly, and could have flipped on its back.
He noted that Keehi Lagoon is a great place for a water landing because “it’s smooth enough water and strong winds. If you’re landing into the wind, it’s a benefit because it’s going to slow your speed on landing, so if you had to pick a place to ditch an airplane, Keehi Lagoon is a great place to do it.”
Forman said landing at Keehi Lagoon is much like a regular landing when the water is flat.
According to experts, one of the biggest preparations a pilot can make in this type of landing is to make sure one of the doors on the aircraft is cracked open, and to have his or her life vest on.