Clyde Kawasaki, who ditched a Makani Kai plane into the ocean one mile off Kalaupapa Wednesday, is being called a hero by longtime friend and fellow pilot Christopher Ferrara.
Ferrara, 68, has known Kawasaki for the past 15 years after the two met during an aviation law workshop on Oahu. Ferrara is a local attorney who flew for the Air Force from 1967 to ’71 and has more than 40 years of experience as a pilot.
“He's a former Aloha captain and he's been flying forever as far as I'm concerned,” Ferrara said of Kawasaki. “He's a good guy.”
Kawasaki was piloting a Cessna Caravan 208B from Kalaupapa to Honolulu when shortly after takeoff he heard a loud bang. Makani Kai owner Richard Shuman says the aircraft suffered catastrophic engine failure shortly after takeoff before 3:30 p.m.
“At that point, you lose all power and your airplane now becomes a glider and you fly it back down the best you could," said Schuman.
Kawasaki was only 500 to 1,000 feet in the air when the apparent engine failure occurred. Ferrara says at such a low altitude, a pilot has mere moments to react.
“Going in that low with maximum thrust and all of a sudden you have no thrust, is super traumatic and you've got very little time to make a decision,” said Ferrara.
Ferrara hasn’t had the chance to speak to Kawasaki about the ditching, but has heard accounts from those who have. He said he considers Kawasaki a hero for keeping the Cessna from flipping over when it hit the water.
“Landing with fixed gear down there, it creates a problem,” said Ferrara. “Some schools of thought say if you come in just right, it will stabilize and you won't flip over. Other people think it's a guaranteed flip, but apparently he didn't. He nosed in and it gave everybody a chance to get out of the aircraft, and I would say that kind of thing is pilot skill, just knowing what he was doing at the time he got real close to the water.”
Although all eight passengers on board the aircraft were able to exit through the main cabin door, Hawaii state health Director Loretta Fuddy, 65, died while awaiting rescue. Knowing Kawasaki as well as he does, Ferrara says the pilot’s thoughts are likely centered on Fuddy’s family.
“I think he's a hero, but I don't know if he would call himself a hero,” said Ferrara. “He did his job about all he could do, he got everybody out of the airplane and then it was just an unfortunate situation.”