Experienced pilots avoided ‘worst case scenario’ after ditching plane off Lanai coast

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LANAI CITY, Hawaii (KHON2) — Two pilots are recovering after they were forced to ditch their single-engine airplane a few miles off of Lanai’s coast Saturday evening.

The United States Coast Guard and several other pilots helped in the search and rescue operation.

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One pilot was training the other on a DA40 Diamond Star aircraft a few miles off of Lanai’s coast Saturday when a ‘mayday’ call came through.  

“Apparently, while they were training out near Lanai, they experienced engine failure and they went ahead and declared an emergency and made an emergency landing in the water,” explained George Hanzawa, owner of George’s Aviation and the owner of the plane. Hanzawa has trained with both pilots who were involved in the ocean landing.

Hanzawa said both men have experience and they were doing advanced training when the unexpected happened.

Mokulele Airlines pilot Justin Constantino had just taken off from Lanai when he heard the ‘mayday’ call come through around 5:40 p.m.

“They said that they lost their engine, and we kept telling them to try to restart it, you know, do your best to restart it. They said they tried multiple times and it was just completely gone,” Constantino recalled.

He also said the pilots indicated white smoke was coming from the cowling.

Constantino and his co-pilot watched as the aircraft tried to make it to shore, but instead glided closer to the water.

“You could tell by the sound of their voice, they were pretty scared, you know. I would be too,” he continued.

Constantino had six passengers on board and said he wanted to circle the pilots who were now in the choppy waters below.

“I thought to myself, man, if I was in that position, I would want any help that I could get, you know, whether it’s just a helicopter or plane just having eyes on us, until the Coast Guard could come,” Constantino said.

The two pilots were wearing life vests but stuck in choppy waters, with a mixture of wind and moderate surf.

Constantino said he circled around the pilots as long as he could, but worried he would run out of fuel and continued on his original path towards Honolulu.

“I didn’t want to just stay there longer, and then have you know, another eight people in the water,” he said. “I wanted to help out as much as I could, but if we went down too then it’s just causing more trouble.”

Hanzawa said a Kamaka Airplane took over when Constantino headed back to Oahu.

The pilot on Kamaka Airplane kept visual on the pilots until the Coast Guard helicopter arrived just before dark.

“Once on scene, the dolphin helicopter crew located the two pilots in the water and deployed a rescue swimmer. They were then able to hoist the two pilots and bring them back to air station Barber’s Point, and awaited emergency services who brought them to Queen’s Medical Center,” explained US Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd class Matthew West.

EMS transported the men in serious condition.

The pilots names have not been released, but aviation experts say the two did the best they could to avoid a worst case scenario.

“Worst case scenario was they couldn’t come up, they couldn’t leave their aircraft, or they stayed in their aircraft while it sank,” said Constantino. “I mean, worst case scenario we go down as well, I mean that’s two planes down with another eight souls on board.”

“Being able to land correctly in the water, with the wind, behind a swell, in the flattest part possible, and tail first is key because you don’t want the plane to come in fast nose-first where it flips over,” Hanzawa said.

He said he hasn’t spoken to the pilots yet about what happened but said it was a positive outcome.

“With the type of outcome we have, I want to say, they did it perfectly because the injuries were minor,” he said.

Hanzawa said the 2007 single-engine plane was well-maintained and didn’t have past issues.

He says he will wait to hear from the NTSB and FAA on what went wrong so they can learn from it moving forward.

The Coast Guard confirmed the plane sank to the bottom of the ocean.

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