The bodies of four victims have been recovered following a Honolulu plane crash involving a 1969 Beechcraft Muskateer 19 Sport. Rugged, rural terrain delayed emergency responders in finding the victims, and some reports suggest that recovery efforts were further hindered by the plane’s out-of-date technology. The fatal small plane crash is just one of five airplane incidents since May 2016 in Hawaii.
Fated Flight Took Off on Friday But Was Not Reported Missing Until Saturday
The Beechcraft Muskateer departed Honolulu airport on the evening of Friday, July 28, 2017, with a pilot and three passengers on board for a sunset ride. Officials have said, however, that the plane departed from its original flight path, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says contact with air traffic control was lost at 6:37 p.m.
Loved ones didn’t report the four people on board missing until 10:00 a.m. the following morning and it was not until 3:20 p.m. that day that emergency personnel would locate the downed aircraft. Some reports suggest that pilot Dean Hutton was not required to-and did not-file a flight plan, which could have further delayed the search efforts, as family members may not have realized when the four were scheduled to return.
Emergency Teams Battled Rugged Terrain to Find Beechcraft Plane Wreckage
The emergency beacon on board the Beechcraft sent out a signal that was first picked up at approximately 8:47 a.m. by a commercial jet that passed over the small plane crash wreckage. The signal from the out-of-date (but legal) emergency locator, however, did not have GPS, leaving emergency responders with a huge range of both ocean and land to cover in their search.
“The initial search area was all of Oahu and 50-100 miles offshore,” U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Scott Carr said. “Where do you start?”
Emergency responders used the intermittent signal from the emergency locator to try to find the plane, while also using direction sensing equipment aboard U.S. Coast Guard helicopters, but it was cell phones that finally led crews to the wreckage.
“We were able to talk to the cell phone carriers and see if any of the phones were still active,” Carr said in an interview with KITV4. “Several of the phones had survived the crash and that gave us a better location.”
The Beechcraft was found, but emergency responders then faced the difficult task of accessing the plane, which went down near Kunia in the Waianae Mountains.
“In this case, it’s a very remote area. Our rescue personnel had to rappel off of our Air 1 helicopter to be inserted into the mountainside,” Craig Uchimura, Honolulu Fire Department battalion chief, said in a statement. “It’s pretty treacherous up there. We’d be unable to get up there by vehicle, much less by foot.”
Three of the bodies were located inside the plane and one body was discovered outside the aircraft. Crews transferred the bodies one-by-one from the crash site.
An investigation into the Honolulu small plane crash will now be conducted by the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The full investigation will be delayed until the wreckage can be transported from the inaccessible mountain area to an inspection site.
Family and Friends Mourn Victims of Honolulu Small Plane Crash
There were four people, including the pilot, killed in the plane crash.
- Dean Hutton, 29 (pilot): Hutton was behind the controls for the sunset flight, and had recently moved to Oahu from the Charleston, South Carolina, where he was born and raised. Friends say Hutton was an experienced and careful pilot who loved to fly.
- Heather Riley, 27: A Virginia native, Riley had moved to Hawaii and become the business owner of Hawaii Design Studios. She is remembered by those who knew her for her positive attitude. “Heather, she was just always smiling. She always had such a good attitude. Everywhere she went she radiated joy. She was like the sunshine in somebody’s cloudy day,” Michelle Curiel, a friend of three of the victims, said in an interview with KITV4.
- Gerrit Evensen, 28: Evensen was dating Riley and was a graduate of the prestigious Punahou School on Oahu. He had started his own business in June, and friends describe him and Riley as being deeply in love.
- Alexis Aaron, 32: Aaron grew up in Texas and had studied marine biology at Texas A&M before she moved to Hawaii, pursuing her love of the ocean. Her family sent the following statement to KHON2: “We are devastated and mourning our loss of Lexy. She is a beautiful soul and so many of her friends are saying they will miss her generous smile and positive energy.”
Plane Owner Connected to Oahu Plane Crash in June
The Beechcraft 19A involved in the Honolulu plane crash was rented from Aircraft Maintenance & Flight School Hawaii. Jahn Mueller owns the school and is the registered owner of the plane, according to FAA records. Mueller also owns a 1971 Piper PA-28 that was involved in a June 30, 2017 crash.
Preliminary NTSB reports for the June 30, 2017 crash indicate the plane lost engine power shortly after takeoff and crashed in a stream bed. The pilot and two passengers on board were seriously injured, but have since recovered. The NTSB is investigating the incident.
Hutton’s uncle Scott Potwin said that the last time Hutton had taken up the Beechcraft 19A that crashed at the end of July, the aircraft lost all communications and power.
“He had been [flying] quite a few times in the last couple of weeks,” Potwin said. “But the plane he rented had problems.”
Mueller issued a statement on the Honolulu small plane crash on July 30, 2017, and admitted the Beechcraft had issues:
“I am deeply saddened by this tragic event and my prayers go out to all affected. I don’t want to speculate on the cause of this accident as that will be determined by professionals in due time. I knew Dean and he loved flying and had many hours in that airplane. He had an alternator issue several flights ago, and he handled it like a professional, and the aircraft was repaired and returned to service.”
Small Plane Crashes Frequent in Hawaii
The last year has seen multiple small plane and helicopter crashes in Hawaii. Prior to this latest fatal crash and the June 30, 2017 crash, a Cessna was forced to making a hard landing at the Kalaupapa airport on Molokai in March. None of the nine people on board were injured. Another Cessna disappeared with three people on board flying over Molokai in December of 2016.
The plane and occupants were never located. A separate Beechcraft crash in March of 2016 saw a crash landing in the waters of Honolulu, with two people sustaining minor injuries. That same month five people were killed in a Cessna used for skydiving flights that crashed on Kauai.