HONOLULU — The owner of an airline that operated a plane that crashed in Hawaii waters and killed the director of the state health department said Thursday it was caused by engine failure.
Owner Richard Schuman of Makani Kai Air said the pilot did the best he could to get the small plane carrying nine people down safely and keep them together in the ocean off of Molokai.
Schuman said officials know what happened but not why.
Schuman said the pilot of the Cessna Grand Caravan was physically OK.
Maui County officials said the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash that occurred on Wednesday and killed health director Loretta Fuddy. The eight other people onboard survived.
The Makani Kai Air plane, bound for Honolulu, went down about a half-mile northwest of Kalaupapa peninsula, Maui Fire Department spokesman Lee Mainaga said in a statement.
Fuddy and deputy director Keith Yamamoto were on the flight after an annual visit to Kalaupapa, a remote peninsula on the north side of Molokai (moh-loh-KY’-ee) island where the state exiled leprosy patients until 1969.
Tom Matsuda, interim executive director of Hawaii’s health insurance exchange, confirmed the death of Fuddy, who was on the board of the exchange.
“I cannot even begin to convey what a terrible loss this is for Hawaii,” Matsuda said in a statement. “I worked closely with Director Fuddy on the Affordable Care Act and came to know and respect her as a passionate advocate for public health and a warm, caring human being.”
Gov. Neil Abercrombie said Fuddy was loved and respected.
“Her knowledge was vast, her counsel and advice always given from her heart as much as from her storehouse of experience,” Abercrombie said.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, a former lieutenant governor under Abercrombie, said Fuddy was capable and caring. His office said Fuddy spent 30 years working in health and human services and had been health director since March 2011.
Most recently, Fuddy led the department as it transitioned its marriage license system to allow gay couples to wed under a new law that took effect this month.
Coast Guard Petty Officer Melissa McKenzie said a Coast Guard helicopter rescued three passengers from the water and Maui fire crews picked up others. One person swam ashore.
McKenzie said the helicopter transported three people to Honolulu for medical treatment, while a Coast Guard plane took five people to Maui.
The leprosy settlement on Kalaupapa is still run by the state health department, though only a few former leprosy patients continue to live there.
Associated Press writer Oskar Garcia contributed to this report.