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My last column mentioned my ordeal with renting an airplane in Hawaii but I did not go into much detail. Because the incident is so unbelievable I thought I would fill you in on more of the details.
On June 16, around 8:30 a.m., I rented an airplane, a Cessna 172 from one of the airplane rental agencies in Kona, Hawaii. They required a checkout ride which took less than an hour. Shortly afterwards I departed the Kona Airport with my wife and daughter for a tour around the big island.
It is about a two and a half hour ride if you simply fly along the coastline without deviation, but most people fly slightly inland en-route to view the phenomenal sights, and we were no acceptation. The result was a zigzagging pattern between the coastline and lower inland. It took us four hours to circumnavigate the island but not without a hitch.
Just past the half-way-point the electronics went out in the airplane without warning. That meant no radio communications or navigation systems, all of which are vital when flying in the Hawaiian Islands or anywhere else for that matter.
I turned back and made an emergency landing at the Hilo airport on the opposite side of the island from where we departed. Luckily it was a smooth, no flap landing and we were all safe. Apparently the alternator had failed in flight and everything electrical simply stopped working when the battery went dead.
The airplane rental agency had a small office at the Hilo Airport and offered to give us another Cessna to complete our flight. I accepted their offer and shortly after we departed in it.
The two airplanes performed differently from each other. They were both the same kind of Cessna but the first was peppy and climbed to altitude with little effort, while the second Cessna lagged in power and was sluggish to climb. Because of the poor performance I decided to maintain level flight in is as straight a line as I could, hugging the coastline back to Kona with no deviations. I was not happy with that airplane at all.
The landing in Kona was uneventful. I complained to the rental agency about both airplanes and I told them the second Cessna was not up to performance while the first had major electrical problems. They were apologetic and gave me a partial refund.
The next day we took a chartered catamaran for a snorkeling trip and had a great time. On returning to the hotel that night we learned on TV a small airplane was missing on the Kona side of the island, but we sort of dismissed the report. There are many small airplanes in Hawaii.
Several days later we learned the ill-fated airplane had crashed in a remote area and the three occupants were killed. The airplane turned out to be the second airplane I flew a few days earlier. And, as it turned out, I was the last person to pilot the airplane and it was the very next morning that it crashed.
At present the accident is under investigation but the incident strikes very close to home. It could have been my wife, my daughter, and me who went down in the airplane instead. I guess it was not our time.
The NTSB will likely call the accident pilot error because 90 percent of all small airplane accidents are. But, I can't help but think the poor performance of the aircraft played a part in the crash, too.
No one will likely ever know what really happened. I just thank God it was not me and my dearest loved ones who went down instead. Admittedly, though, you have to admit, and because you are reading this story, the whole ordeal still weighs very heavy on my mind.