Coast Guard searching for missing medical transport aircraft in ʻAlenuihāhā Channel
This story was updated at 2:49 p.m. on Dec. 16.
The U.S. Coast Guard has responded to a report of a downed medical transport aircraft in waters of the ʻAlenuihāhā Channel between Maui and the Big Island.
The search for the aircraft began sometime about 10 p.m. Thursday, according to the Coast Guard’s Twitter feed. Fast Response Cutter William Hart joined the search at about 11 p.m. A patrol boat from Station Maui, an MH-65 Dolphin Helicopter and a C-130 from Air Station Barbers Point also are part of the search.
The Coast Guard tweeted at 7:23 a.m. today that one of the aircraft involved in the search reported seeing a sheen in the search area. A USCG patrol boat also recovered debris from the area, but there was no confirmation that it was from the missing aircraft.
Just before that, the Coast Guard tweeted that the missing aircraft was reported to be a Hawaiʻi Life Flight King Air twin-engine propeller plane with three people on board, all of whom are crew. No patients were aboard.
The Honolulu Control Facility reported losing radar contact with the plane about 15 nautical miles offshore south of Hana, Maui.
“Global Medical Response can confirm that one of our Hawaiʻi Life Flight emergency fixed wing airplanes based in Maui, went off radar while en route to pick up a patient in Waimea, Big Island,” the company said in a statement, according to a Hawai’i News Now story. The flight departed from Kahului headed to the Waimea-Kohala Airport.
Global Medical Response was reaching out to the families of the missing crew and Hawaiʻi Life Flight paused its transport flights as the search continues.
Hawai’i Gov. Josh Green, M.D. issued an Emergency Proclamation Friday morning in response to the incident.
“Hawai‘i’s medical airlift capacity must be supplemented,” said Green and Director of Health Elizabeth “Libby” A. Char, M.D. in a joint statement. “The Emergency Proclamation gives our state the ability to supplement Hawai‘i’s medical airlift capacity with aircraft and flight crews from other states and permits out-of-state actively licensed and certified emergency medical personnel to be employed as certified flight paramedics and registered nurses on medical transport aircrafts.”
Gov. Green and his administration are coordinating efforts between Hawai‘i Life Flight, the State Department of Health, the Army National Guard, all county Mayors, the Coast Guard and medical facilities and personnel throughout the state and on the mainland, to ensure continuity and uninterrupted emergency transport services between the islands.
The primary focus is augmenting services to the neighbor islands and deploying extra capacity for critical care needs.
“Our hearts are with the families of the crewmembers aboard the Hawaiʻi Life Flight plane that went off-radar last night while in transit to pick up a patient from our hospital in Waimea,” said Hawaiʻi County Mayor Mitch Roth in a statement issued Friday afternoon. “The service they provide to our community is truly invaluable, and we mahalo all who risk their lives daily to save the lives of others. Our administration remains hopeful in the Coast Guard’s search and eagerly awaits any sign of good news.”
Roth said his office would continue constant communication with Green and his team in preparation to do whatever it takes to ensure the continuance of vital health care transportation services between islands — especially as regular Hawaiʻi Life Flight services are paused.
“That said, we’re urging our residents to be extra cautious over the coming week to help us keep medical transport needs on Hawaiʻi Island to a bare minimum,” the mayor’s statement said. “Our medical providers are working together to help pool resources so that we can keep as many of our patients on-island as possible. The coming days will be a strain on normal day-to-day operations, but we want the community to know that the County, state and local medical providers are working together to find solutions that ensure adequate care for all of our residents. With that, we ask our community to join us in hoping for the best as the search continues for the aircraft and its crew.”