Coast Guard Suspends Search For Missing Commuter Plane In Hawaii
HONOLULU (AP) _ Searchers in planes and at sea failed to uncover clues to the fate of a commuter airplane with eight people aboard that disappeared over waters southeast of here.
Coast Guard and Air Force aircraft and a patrol boat suspended a search Thursday night for Panorama Air Tours Flight 21, which disappeared Wednesday evening near the island of Molokai, 50 miles southeast of Honolulu. The search was to resume at sunrise today.
The Piper Chieftain twin-engine airplane carried a pilot and seven passengers.
Airline President Paul Risher refused to release the names of the passengers, but said Panorama Air employees spent Thursday notifying their relatives.
″As far as we know, they (the passengers) all were tourists,″ said Ken Fletcher, director of operations for Panorama Air.
Risher would not speculate about the cause the disappearance.
On Nov. 21, a Panorama Air Piper Chieftain crash-landed in a Honolulu park after one of the plane’s engines failed, injuring one person. Fletcher said the missing airplane was not the same craft.
Panorama Air planes have been involved in at least five other accidents, including three fatal crashes that killed 19 people since the inter-island carrier began service in March 1971.
Risher said the company’s planes are subjected to routine inspection and he said the pilot of Flight 21 was highly trained.
″Our planes are inspected every night, when they return (to Honolulu), and they go through a major phase maintenance program every 10 or 12 days,″ Risher said. ″I don’t know how long this one’s been from its major phase, but certainly no more than 12 days.″
Private pilots near the last reported location of the plane were asked to be on the lookout for wreckage, said Petty Officer Mason Cornish of the Joint Rescue Coordination Center.
Searchers investigated four reports Thursday of possible debris and oil slicks, but none of the leads turned up any wreckage, Cornish said.
The flight left Honolulu International Airport at 6:40 p.m. bound for Molokai Airport, said Petty Officer James Walker of the rescue center.
The airplane was lost off Honolulu airport radar Wednesday when it was 3 1/ 2 miles off the west coast of Molokai, said Melissa Youngberg, a Coast Guard spokeswoman. Two Coast Guard helicopters, a C-130 airplane, two Air Force search planes and a patrol boat were searching waters off Molokai, she said Thursday.
George Harvey of the Federal Aviation Administration said visibility was 15 miles when the plane disappeared, winds were light and rain showers were reported over Molokai.
The plane was flying at 1,500 to 1,600 feet, said Carl Maddox, FAA area supervisor.
The pilot, Steve Baayoun, 27, joined Panorama Air six months ago, said chief pilot John Callahan. He said Baayoun had 3,000 hours of flying experience in Southern California, but he was unable to immediately recall what companies Baayoun had flown for.
Callahan said five of the seven passengers had booked seats shortly before departure because they had missed another flight.
Five people from Los Angeles were scheduled to check into the Sheraton- Moloka i in Maunaloa Wednesday night after flying Panorama, but never arrived, said General Manager Dale Stetson. The people were traveling in two parties, Stetson said.