Airline pilot reportedly avoids runway collision at Kalaupapa Airport

A plane with nine people on board made a hard landing and slid off the runway at the Kalaupapa Airport on Molokai Saturday morning. No one was injured.

The Makani Kai Air Cessna 208 Caravan was arriving from Honolulu around 8:30 a.m. when it made a hard landing, damaging the front landing gear of the plane, and went off the runway.

The state Department of Transportation told us the damaged aircraft was removed from the runway before 3 p.m. and that airport operations resumed after the runway was cleared of rocks and debris.

The Federal Aviation Administration says there was another plane on the runway at the time of the hard landing, a Cessna 172, but couldn’t confirm if it was involved in any way.

Later Saturday evening, however, we spoke with airline owner Richard Schuman, who told us what he knows about that second plane and that his pilot did what she was trained to do.

The Makani Kai Air pilot called in about seven miles out after seeing another aircraft doing practice maneuvers. After looping around the airport, the other pilot radioed in that they were clear of the runway.

But Schuman says it turned out that they were not.

“As our pilot started touching down, she noticed that that other plane was not clear of the runway. It was actually at the end of the runway, probably coming back or, what she said, like facing them, so she was not sure what their intentions were. So she made a maneuver to try to avoid colliding into them and ended landing hard herself,” he said.

Schuman says after the plane came to stop, everyone, including five local residents — including a hospital patient — and four visitors, got out safely with no injuries.

But this is where the story gets interesting. He says the other plane then attempted to take off, but aborted when they ran out of runway.

“They ended up taxiing their airplane and parked it in front of the terminal at Kalaupapa, and from what I know, I understand there are at least two people that got out of the airplane and they hightailed it out of there.”

Schuman says the FAA and the NTSB have been notified and are searching for the occupants of that second plane. As for his aircraft, while he says he doesn’t have any damage estimates yet, he does know that it’s too damaged to fly. “It will not fly out of Kalaupapa. If anything, it may be dismantled and barged out.”

He says while his pilot is relatively new to the company, she completed all of her training and was certified to fly into Kalaupapa. And while he praises her performance, he says standard protocol is to keep her on the ground while officials investigate.

“It’s such a relief that there’s no injuries and that the pilot did exactly what was trained to do and the outcome’s good,” Schuman said.

“I seen the plane on the runway, the wheels were damaged,” said Shannon Kalani Aliiloa Crivello, who witnessed the aftermath. “The park rangers were there already, escorting people off of the plane.

“As far as the patient, yeah, we helped the patient,” he said. “That was our main job, other than the staff took the patient in and the tourists and some of the visitors were fine.”

Because of the small size of the runway, no flights were able to leave or land in Kalaupapa at the time. Its length is under 3,000 feet.

“It’s a two-direction runway,” said George Hanzawa of George’s Aviation. “You don’t have any error for crosswind landings. You have to make sure your runways are set properly and ready to go when you are coming in. You got to really think about it because there is no other crossing runway that you can use.”

When it comes to the runway at Kalaupapa, he says it’s up to the pilots to communicate when they are landing.

“There is no controller at Kalaupapa. The pilots are talking among themselves, on a discreet frequency, so they are in communication,” Hanzawa said. “So when a pilot is approaching to land, they make their calls, letting them know what their intention is.”

You may remember about three years ago, a Makani Kai Air plane crashed off of Kalaupapa. On Dec. 11, 2013, the single-engine plane lost power because of engine trouble shortly after take-off and went into the ocean.

Loretta Fuddy, the state’s health director at the time, died as a result of the crash. The pilot and seven other passengers survived.

An NTSB report on the crash later said the life vest Fuddy wore when she was in the water was too small for an adult and was also defective.

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