State Department of Health Director Loretta Fuddy reportedly died Wednesday afternoon when a small plane carrying nine people crashed into the ocean a half mile northwest of Molokai's Kalaupapa peninsula.
There was no confirmation of her death from the Governor's Office on Wednesday night. After earlier saying a statement would be released to identify the crash fatality, Keith DeMello, a member of Gov. Neil Abercrombie's communication's staff, said nothing would be released until early this morning.
"Right now, we're being respectful to the family's wishes," he said.
Confirmation of Fuddy as the crash fatality came earlier from the Rev. Pat Killilea, pastor of St. Francis Parish in Kalaupapa. He viewed her photo online and was given her first name by nurses after Fuddy had been declared dead.
He said Fuddy was the lone fatality in the crash of the Cessna Caravan and that the seven other passengers and one pilot were safely ashore.
"I guess they were able to get into their flotation devices, and (a man) was holding her hand, but at one stage she let go and didn't respond," Killilea said of the crash, which the man recounted to him. "At that point, I think he knew she had passed."
Killilea said Fuddy was airlifted from the ocean and taken to the Kalaupapa Airport, where she was then transported by ambulance to a nearby care home.
The man, Killilea said, was Fuddy's assistant and a state Health Department worker.
Earlier, Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo confirmed that Fuddy and state Deputy Director Keith Yamamoto were on the flight bound from Kalaupapa to Honolulu. Fuddy and Yamamoto attended an annual meeting Wednesday in Kalaupapa to meet state employees and patients, she said.
The remote peninsula on Molokai is still home to a few former Hansen's disease patients. The settlement is run by the Health Department. Kalaupapa also is a national historical park operated by the National Parks Service.
Okubo gave no report of the condition of the crash victims late Wednesday afternoon.
While at the care home, Killilea said, the male health worker was seated bedside with Fuddy when she was pronounced dead.
"He was having a tough time because she practically died in his arms," he said.
The man told him they were in the water for about 45 minutes before being rescued.
Killilea said he gave a prayer for the deceased. When he asked the woman's name, the nurses said, "Loretta."
U.S. Coast Guard and Maui fire rescue crews rescued the surviving occupants of the Oahu-based Makani Kai Air flight.
The Coast Guard received the report of the downed plane at 3:27 p.m. and "immediately dispatched" two Coast Guard helicopters, a fixed-wing plane and boats from Honolulu and Maui, said Petty Officer Melissa McKenzie with the U.S. Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard aircraft were two MH-65 Dolphin helicopters and a HC-130 Hercules airplane from Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point on Oahu. Coast Guard Cutters Ahi and Galveston Island, home-ported in Honolulu, and two 45-foot Response-Boat Medium crews from Station Maui also were sent to the scene, the Coast Guard said.
Rescue swimmers from the Dolphin helicopters rescued three passengers in the water while Maui firefighters helped other survivors get to shore.
Three people were transported by Dolphin helicopter crews to Honolulu for emergency medical services. Two people were transported by a Makani Kai plane to Honolulu and the rest of the passengers remained on Molokai, the Coast Guard said.
Killilea said he knew something was wrong when he heard the "roar of a plane" above his house.
"I knew they had to be searching for something because I knew that can't be a pleasure plane," he said.
The crash occurred shortly after takeoff, state Department of Transportation officials said.
After the crash, one survivor swam to shore, and eight others were seen in the ocean wearing life vests, said Fire Services Chief Lee Mainaga. He also said that the Maui Fire Department's Air One helicopter assisted in the rescue.
The eight survivors were "in good condition," Mainaga said, with two choosing to stay overnight in Kalaupapa.
Killilea said he found a few of the survivors at an area known as "Nuns Beach," and that the rest were taken to the airport. The priest said he visited the airport to see crash survivors and that nurses, national park workers and "anyone who was available" were giving them water and blankets.
"One of them was a young man who worked on our church roof (Wednesday) morning," Killilea said. "He must have had some problems because they had him in a (neck) brace."
The male pilot appeared to be in "pretty good shape," but he had some blood on his chest and rib area, along with some cuts, Killilea said.
However, he said a tall, elderly man was shaking and appeared to be suffering from hypothermia.
Killilea said there were about three women and six men on the flight, some of whom were visitors.
Edward English, a National Park Service employee at Kalaupapa, said one crash victim swam ashore despite high surf. The other crash victims were picked up, one by one by helicopters, and flown to shore, he said.
The first three victims were dropped off near a pier at Kalaupapa, English said, and the rest were taken to Kalaupapa Airport where residents brought them blankets. He said he saw no smoke, but he did see flares at the crash scene in the ocean.
Three victims were taken to Oahu, and three others were transported to Molokai General Hospital, Mainaga said.
Makani Kai's Cessna Caravan single-engine plane transports passengers to topside Molokai, Kalaupapa and Oahu.
The fixed-wing aircraft seats 12. It was built in 2002, according to online records.
Fuddy was appointed to her position in 2011 by Abercrombie and has 30 years of experience in the field of health and human services, according to her biography on the Hawaii Health Connector website.
Prior to serving as director, she was chief of the department's Family Health Services Division. She also was chairwoman of the Hawai'i Public Health Association, president of the Association of State and Territorial Public Health Social Workers, treasurer and secretary of the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs and a member of the Policy Committee of the Association State & Territorial Health Officers.
Fuddy grew up in Kaimuki on Oahu and was a graduate of Sacred Hearts Academy. She held degrees in sociology, social work and public health from the University of Hawaii and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Public Health.
The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration will be investigating the cause of the crash.
* Staff Writers Lila Fujimoto, Melissa Tanji, Eileen Chao and Brian Perry contributed to this report. Chris Sugidono can be reached at email@example.com.