Eye-popping video of last month's plane crash off Molokai is making international headlines. The images were captured by passenger Ferdinand Puentes, but for Makani Kai Air pilot Clyde Kawasaki, 60, the video was too difficult to watch just one day after the Dec. 11 crash.
"Disturbing; yeah, it was very disturbing," said Kawasaki, who asked that the video be turned off when he first saw it.
More than a month after the ditching that claimed the life of state Health Director Loretta Fuddy, Kawasaki has seen the video again, and says it's helping him piece together the sequence of events. Kawasaki was forced to make the water landing after experiencing catastrophic engine failure shortly after takeoff.
"When the engine let go, I didn't even think, 'Oh, why me? Or, oh expletive deleted kind of thing you know? It was just, OK reaction," explained Kawasaki. "I mean, OK no power, shove the nose down, I've got bunch of lights, fire warnings going off. Do I smell something? I smelled a little bit of oil, I remember that."
Kawasaki was able to keep the 2002 Cessna Grand Caravan upright; something experts say gave the pilot and his eight passengers a chance to get out alive.
"Nobody's ever told me about a successful ditching in a Caravan," said Kawasaki. "As far as I know, we're the first people to ever survive a ditching in a Caravan without flipping."
The video shows water quickly entering the plane as it hits the water. And perhaps most striking is the lack of panic from any of the passengers, something that also struck a chord with Kawasaki.
"No panic, no swearing, no pushing, no shoving," says the pilot with more than 45 years of experience. "None of that. I mean, everybody was helping everybody."
Kawasaki says he briefly lost consciousness after hitting his head on the control panel of the plane. A freeze frame of the video shows blood coming from the pilot's forehead as he floats near the partially submerged Cessna. Kawasaki says his mind briefly turned to the possibility of sharks, but he quickly refocused on keeping his passengers calm as they awaited rescue.
"Trying to keep people together, but the waves and the current were just dragging everybody all over the place," said Kawasaki. "I said, 'Stay together; it'll be easier for them to find us.'"
Like clockwork, help arrived in the time Kawasaki expected, about 45 minutes after ditching the plane. However, Kawasaki's joy was tempered when he heard Fuddy had died, even though she did not appear to suffer any major injury.
"That was pretty hard to take. Still is," he says.
This past Wednesday, Kawasaki and Puentes returned to Molokai on a Makani Kai plane. Kawasaki flew as a passenger, still contemplating the ditching that could have been his final flight.
"I looked out the window and I could see Ferdinand looking out the window at that bay where we were, and both of us had tears in our eyes you know, because that could have been our graves out there," said the pilot.
Kawasaki expects to be cleared to fly again early next month. He doesn't know how much longer he'll do it, but like an old friend, he says he's looking forward to it.
"Whether or not I'll stay in it for a long period of time I don't know," he says. "But my wife wouldn't mind me staying out of it, but she won't say, 'You got to stay out of it.'"