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Hawaii official who died after crash wore infant life vest

May 6, 2016

HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii’s former health director who died after a plane she was traveling in crashed into the ocean was wearing an infant life vest and the pilot didn’t give a safety briefing before takeoff, according to details in a National Transportation Safety Board report.

An autopsy determined Loretta Fuddy died of an irregular heartbeat from hyperventilating after she exited the plane, which landed in choppy water off the island of Molokai. The pilot and seven other passengers on the 2013 Makani Kai Air flight survived.

Pilot Clyde Kawasaki reported to the NTSB that he heard a loud bang, followed by an immediate loss of engine power soon after the single-engine Cessna took off from Molokai, headed for Honolulu. Bleeding badly from hitting his head on the instrument panel, he started distributing life vests and seat cushions to passengers to use as flotation devices. “He did not take time to look for his own life vest as the airplane was filling with water,” the report said. “After checking to see that the cabin was empty, he exited through the door at the rear of the cabin.”

The plane sank after about 25 minutes.

The narrative released Wednesday is what the NTSB calls a “factual report.” It’s considered the second phase of the investigation process. The next step will be the determination of probable cause, which will be included in a final report. It’s not clear when a final report will be released__ possibly a few months, said agency spokesman Keith Holloway.

Investigators determined the 220-pound Fuddy was wearing a partially inflated infant vest, the report said. A passenger who swam to shore also had an infant vest.

“In the chaos of making sure everyone had a life vest, an infant life vest was pulled,” said Makani Kai owner Richard Schuman. He disputed that passengers weren’t given safety information.

Deputy Health Director Keith Yamamoto, who was traveling with Fuddy, told the NTSB the pilot didn’t give a safety briefing before takeoff. A married couple on the flight reported that the pilot asked them who had flown that morning and said “you know the procedures.”

Kawasaki declined to comment, only saying he had heard about the report’s details but hadn’t yet read it himself.

Fuddy and Yamamoto were on the flight after an annual visit to Kalaupapa, where leprosy patients were exiled until 1969. The health department oversees the settlement, though only a few former leprosy patients live there.

As the two of them drifted from the plane, Yamamoto noted Fuddy was “not really saying anything but was breathing very hard and fast,” the report said. Yamamoto later saw that her eyes were closed and she was no longer breathing hard.

Fuddy gained attention after deciding to publicly release President Barack Obama’s Hawaii birth certificate in 2011 to rebut claims he was not born in the United States.

Lawsuits by Yamamoto and Fuddy’s family against the engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney Canada Corp and Makani Kai ended in favorable settlements, said attorney Rick Fried who represented the plaintiffs. He said he can’t disclose the amounts.


Follow Jennifer Sinco Kelleher at http://www.twitter.com/JenHapa. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/jennifer-sinco-kelleher.