HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – The NTSB is reporting new details on the final moments of a fatal air ambulance crash last month, and experts say it appears the pilot was disoriented before losing control of the aircraft.
The new clues were included in preliminary findings issued by the NTSB on the Dec. 15 crash of a Hawaii Life Flight medical transport plane, which called all three people onboard.
Experts told Hawaii News Now the report indicates the pilot got disoriented on a stormy, moonless night.
The plane, a twin-engine Beech 90, was never recovered. The NTSB said it took off from Kahului just before 9 p.m., traveled around east Maui, and was about to turn south toward the Big Island when it spiraled into the sea.
Personal injury attorney Rick Fried has represented survivors and families in many aircraft incidents and is also a pilot himself. He said in complete darkness, any distraction can lead to a sudden loss of control.
“And once you get the wing up or down, you can start spiraling, and it’s too late to pull out,” Fried said.
The report details radio communications between pilot Brian Treptow and a Honolulu controller, who directed him to turn toward “Tammi” ― an initial approach marker for Kamuela. The controller calls again a minute later to confirm the maneuver. Treptow responds, “Uhh 13GZ is off navigation here. We’re gonna give it a try.”
The controller asked to confirm the turn had taken place and redirected it to another direction, indicating the plane was off course. In its last communication the report says someone in the aircraft responded, “Hang on”.
Fried said the course corrections and statements of the pilots were strong indicators the pilot was lost.
“I think it’s very simply a situation where the pilot became disoriented and was off course,” Fried said.
“That makes it pretty clear that he was floundering.”
The report says a pilot going north witnessed the crash and reported, “It began a right turn, then it entered a spiraling right descending turn, which steepened as the descent increased. The NTSB added: “The witness said that he watched the airplane continue to descend until it impacted the surface of the water.”
Presumed dead are the pilot, who also flew for a local helicopter tour company, flight nurse Courtney Parry and flight paramedic Gabriel Camacho.
The report does not mention weather conditions or any sign of maintenance or mechanical issues.
The plane was equipped with a cockpit recorder, which could reveal more about what happened.
The NTSB said that a salvage attempt is pending.
But the ocean where the plane went down is about 6,000 feet deep.
Fried said he doubts the plane can be found and recovered.