A few minutes before the Maui County officials’ press conference today on last night’s crash of an Maui Air charter flight on Lanai that killed three people and injured three more–five of which were county employees–a county staffer circulated the Mayor’s Lounge, where the conference was to take place. As TV crews set up in the front of the room and county officials like Councilman Mike Victorino sat in the back, the staffer handed out small black ribbons to anyone who wanted them.
It wasn’t the kind of thing you normally see at a press conference, but the events that triggered this particular gathering were anything by typical.
Maui County officials will still not confirm the names of the county officials killed and injured in last night’s plane crash on Lanai, county officials said repeatedly at the Feb. 27 press conference. Repeatedly tearing up, the most Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa would say is that the crash involved “two deceased females and one deceased male,” the latter of which was the pilot.
The Maui Police Department is still recovering victims from the crash site, Lt. William Juan of the PD said during the press conference. Identifying the victims will wait until that’s done, he said.
“We do not know why the plane crashed,” Arakawa said. “We lost two of our own last night. One of them was a long-time employee who worked for us for decades. Another was a bright young planner.”
Two of the dead and two of the injured were members of the county Planning Department. A third survivor is employed by the county Corporation Counsel’s office. They were on Lanai yesterday for the Lanai Planning Commission hearing, and were headed back to Maui when the plane went down shortly after take off.
County officials say Managing Director Keith Regan and a team that included Planning Director Will Spence are on Oahu, meeting with the crash survivors. He added that the survivors sustained second and third degree burns.
“We use this airline quite a bit,” Arakawa said at one point in response to a question. That would seem to be an understatement–according to Planning Department Deputy Director Michelle McLean, who spoke at the press conference, her department alone flies people to Lanai twice a month for hearings, and has been doing so for at least the three years she’s worked as deputy director.
At one point, I asked Arakawa whether, given this and two other recent small plane crashes in Maui County over the past four months, the county would start sending its staffers to neighbor islands by ocean ferry instead of air.
“We do send them by ferry as well,” Arakawa said. But given the fact that many meetings take place at night, and going by ferry would likely require employees to stay over night on either Lanai or Molokai, he said many employees fly so they can “spend the night at home.”
When there were no more questions, county Communications Director Rod Antone ended the conference with the words “Safe travels.”
After the press conference ended and the county officials left the room, a few county staffers lingered in back, crying and comforting themselves. As they did, the TV news guys swung their cameras around and filmed them in all their wrenching, emotional glory.