NTSB: witness from another aircraft observed plane impact water off Maui
January 5, 2023, 7:41 PM HST
The National Transportation Safety Board issued a preliminary report on the fatal crash of a medical response flight that occurred in waters off of Maui last month.
The NTSB report indicates that a witness from another small plane observed the accident aircraft descend and spiral right before impacting the surface of the water.
Based on the NTSB report, the airplane wreckage sank in the “open ocean” in an area known as the Maui Channel, with an estimated water depth of 6,000 ft. “Deep water search and recovery efforts are pending,” according to the agency.
The twin-engine turbine-powered airplane, N13GZ, is presumed to have sustained substantial damage in the Dec. 15, 2022 incident, and the three individuals aboard (a transport pilot, flight paramedic, and flight nurse) are presumed fatally injured, according to the report.
The flight, operated by Guardian Flight LLC, dab Hawaiʻi Life Flight went missing off the coast of East Maui while enroute to pick up a patient located on Hawaiʻi island for transport to Honolulu. The three crew members on board were never found.
The 4-page NTSB preliminary report provides a timeline of communication between air traffic control and the pilot.
- At 8:53 p.m., the plane departed from Kahului Airport.
- Shortly after departure, at 8:55 p.m, the pilot contacted an Air Route Traffic Control Centers specialist on duty, and indicated the flight was at 1,000 ft msl (mean sea level) or above sea level, and was climbing to 11,000 ft msl.
- At around 9:02 p.m., the departure ATC specialist instructed the pilot to contact Honolulu Air Route Traffic Control Center. A minute later, at 9:03 p.m., the pilot contacted the ARTCC specialist on duty and reported level at 11,000 ft msl.
- At 9:04 p.m., the ARTCC specialist asked if the pilot could climb to 13,000 ft msl, and the pilot responded that he could.
As the flight proceeded on an east-southeasterly heading and along the northern shoreline of the Island of Maui, it turned southbound along the predetermined flight route, according to the report.
- At 9:08 p.m., as the flight continued on a southeasterly heading, the ARTCC specialist initially instructed the pilot to turn right to a heading of 180°, then to an amended heading of 200°, and the pilot acknowledged the 200° heading.
- At 9:09 p.m., as the flight continued on a 200° heading at 13,000 ft msl, the ARTCC specialist instructed the pilot to descend to 12,000 ft msl, and the pilot accepted.
- At 9:10 p.m., the ARTCC specialist instructed the pilot to descend to 8,000 ft msl, and the pilot acknowledged.
- At 9:12 p.m., the ARTCC specialist instructed the pilot to fly a heading of 180°, and he cleared the flight to “fly direct to Tammi,” the initial approach fix for the RNAV (area navigation) (GPS) 4 approach to MUE (Waimea-Kohala Airport), and the pilot acknowledged the instructions.
In the next minute, over the course of 21 seconds a brief interaction is recorded between air traffic control and the pilot before all communication is lost. The NTSB report includes the following:
- At 9:13 p.m. and 22 seconds, the ARTCC specialist contacted the pilot of N13GZ, asking him to verify that he was flying “direct to Tammi” as previously instructed.
- At 9:13 p.m. and 25 seconds, the pilot replied, in part: “Uhh, 13GZ is off navigation here… we’re gonna… we’re gonna give it a try.”
- At 9:13 p.m. and 32 seconds, the ARTCC specialist acknowledged the pilot’s last statement and instructed him to turn right to a 170° heading and to maintain 8,000 ft msl.
- At 9:13 p.m. and 43 seconds, a final radio transmission, believed to be from the accident pilot, is heard saying “Hang on.”
According to the NTSB, a witness aboard a Piper plane (en route from Hilo to Honolulu), observed the accident aircraft descend, and enter a “spiraling right descending turn” which “steepened as the descent increased.” Shortly after the accident aircraft impacted the water, the witness lost sight of the airplane’s lights.
The NTSB reports that an alert notice was issued by the FAA at 9:27 p.m., and an extensive search was launched by the United States Coast Guard.
“During the search, portions of airplane wreckage were found floating near and in the vicinity of the last known location of the accident airplane,” according to the NTSB report.
Neither the airplane nor its occupants have been located and the search was officially suspended on Dec. 19, 2022, at 9:55 p.m.