WAIEHU - A small plane made an emergency landing in brush near the shoreline in Waiehu on Sunday afternoon with all four aboard uninjured, according to Maui fire and Federal Aviation Administration officials.
Firefighters from Kahului and Wailuku responded to a call of a plane crash at 5:38 p.m., said Fire Services Chief Lee Mainaga. An engine company from Wailuku came across the pilot, who reported that he and the three other men on board were not hurt.
Residents of Hawaiian Homes in Waiehu witnessed the plane go down and dozens of onlookers converged on the crash site, which was about 50 yards from Waiehu Beach down Lower Waiehu Beach Road.
"I was barbecuing right at Hawaiian Homes when my granddaughter yelled, 'Papa look at how low that airplane is,' '' said Richard Olsten, while looking at the plane in the brush. "I'm a pilot, and I've flown 40 years on Maui so I used to buzz by houses but not low like that.
"I figure the plane was about 50 to 75 feet in the air, and he was rocking the wings and his engine wasn't running."
Olsten, a retired pilot with Pacific Helicopters and small-plane companies, said that the aircraft flew directly over him and turned left toward the ocean. He called the Kahului Airport Control Tower and asked if there were any airplanes in trouble.
A Piper Cherokee made an emergency landing Sunday afternoon in brush near the shoreline in Waiehu. All aboard were uninjured.
The Maui News CHRIS SUGIDONO photo
Olsten said that tower officials told him that a pilot had just reported a mayday and had disappeared off their screens.
Ian Gregor, public affairs manager for the FAA Pacific Region, confirmed Sunday that the pilot of a Piper Cherokee on a flight from Honolulu to Maui declared a mayday at 5:40 p.m., about 3 to 4 miles from Kahului Airport.
Olsten said that they "zoomed out and kept going down all the beach access areas and thought maybe it was in the water."
"Then, finally, my son-in-law found it over here because he got on his dirt bike," he said.
The crash site was about a quarter-mile down the beach from Pakele Place, which caused dozens of police officers, firefighters and medics to walk through the backyards of nearby homes, including Drew Belew's. The 13-year-old boy was at home with his parents and two siblings when the plane made the emergency landing.
"We didn't know when it crashed or anything," he said. "A lot of people, policemen, firemen and the people with the tennis rackets came through our house."
In a brief interview with the three passengers, they said that they were flying back to Maui after playing in a U.S. Tennis Association tournament on Oahu.
One of the passengers, who declined to be identified, said that he doesn't know what caused the crash.
"I don't fly planes, I just ride in them," he said.
While walking back toward the road, he embraced his wife. He said later that he was lucky to be alive.
The pilot declined to be interviewed.
Before walking away from the scene, Olsten said that it was a miracle that no one was injured.
"The guy kept his cool, obviously, to be able to land there," he said of the pilot. "I mean in my 40 years I've had seven forced landings and I never got hurt, but to land in a spot like that is really good.
"Either super lucky or a lot of skill - or both."
The plane, with the tail number N9160Q, suffered minor damage, said Gregor.
The FAA will be investigating the incident, he said.
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.