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Wed, Dec 21, 2022

Coast Guard Suspends Search for Missing Air Ambulance Crew

King Air C-90B Lost off Maui

On Thursday 15 December 2022 at approximately 21:10 Hawaii Standard Time (HST) watchstanders at the United States Coast Guard’s Joint Rescue Coordination Center (JRCC) Honolulu received a report of a downed air-ambulance aircraft from the Honolulu Control Facility (HCF)—an amalgamated Air Traffic Control (ATC) facility comprising the Honolulu International Airport (HNL) control tower, and the Honolulu Center Radar Approach Control (CERAP). The HCF provides Air Traffic Control services within the state of Hawaii as well as that region of the Pacific Ocean surrounding the Hawaiian islands.

The reported aircraft—a Hawaii Life Flight King Air C-90B—went down in the Alenuihaha Channel between the islands of Maui and Hawaii, approximately 14-nautical-miles south of Hana, an isolated community on the eastern end of Maui. Aircraft debris and a sheen consistent with spilled jet fuel were found on the ocean’s surface within the suspected crash-area.

The twin-engine turboprop went missing during a flight from Kahului Airport to the Waimea-Kohala Airport on the island of Hawaii, where a patient awaited pick up. The identities of the King Air’s three crew-members have yet to be disclosed.

In the days following the C-90B’s loss, the United States Coast Guard (USCG), in cooperation with the Hawaii Wing Civil Air Patrol and the Coast Guard Auxiliary, conducted a total of 28 searches covering over 4,732-square-miles—albeit to no avail.

On Sunday, 18 December, after three days and three nights of intensive effort, the Coast Guard suspended its active search for the missing aircrew.

Coast Guard District 14 search and rescue program manager Jennifer Conklin stated: “While it is not an easy decision, we have suspended the active search pending any further new information.”

Global Medical Response, which operated the Hawaii Life Flight, asserted in a Facebook post: “This is heartbreaking. It does not change our primary focus, which remains supporting and comforting loved ones and helping our family through this difficult time.”

Hawaii Life Flight, which has been providing air medical transport in Hawaii since 2010, grounded seven aircraft and placed crews in a "safety stand-down " following the presumed 15 December crash.

In a 17 December news release, Global Medical Response, which operates Hawaii Life Flight and is headquartered in Greenwood Village, Colorado, stated safety stand-down is standard protocol following an incident "so precautionary maintenance checks can be performed on all similar aircraft and so that all crew members can focus on their mental well-being during this difficult time."

In a separate 17 December posting on GMR's Facebook page, the company asked for continued prayers "for our team members and their families." GMR employs 39,000 employees in the U.S. and abroad, many of whom left comments expressing support and offering prayers for the missing and their loved ones.

Regrettably, the safety stand-down has resulted in a shortage of air medical transportation between the Hawaiian islands, prompting Aloha State Governor Josh Green to issue an emergency edict calling for the shoring up of air-ambulance aircraft, pilot, and medical staff numbers. Governor Green’s edict, which runs through 27 December, suspends registration and licensing requirements for qualified, out-of-state personnel to engage in medical air transport work within the state of Hawaii and its waters.

Additionally, two Hawaii National Guard Black Hawk helicopters staffed by GMR clinicians and the company's Maui-based medivac helicopter have been made available to assist with medical transport services. What’s more, GMR has made public its intention to temporarily partner with its sister companies, AirMed International and REACH Air Medical Services, as well as Emergency AirLift of Oregon, for purpose of augmenting Hawaiian emergency air operations.

Air-ambulance mishaps, though uncommon, are not unknown along the Hawaiian Archipelago. On 31 January 2004, three lives were lost when a Hawaii Air Ambulance Cessna 414A enroute to pick up a patient in Hilo went down in a forested area on the slopes of Mauna Kea. On 08 March 2006, three more lives were lost when another Hawaii Air Ambulance Cessna 414A crashed into a car dealership off Hana Highway while enroute to pick up a patient at Kahului Airport.

FMI: www.hawaiilifeflight.com

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