HONOLULU — Military aircraft and a patrol boat searched Thursday for a commuter airplane with eight people on board--including five tourists from Los Angeles--that disappeared over the ocean on a flight to a "neighbor island."
The Piper Chieftain twin-engine aircraft was reported missing near the island of Molokai, about 50 miles southeast of here, at 7:45 p.m. Wednesday, said Petty Officer James Walker of the Joint Rescue Coordination Center.
The plane, operated by Panorama Air Tours, carried a pilot and seven passengers, Walker said. The commuter flight left Honolulu International Airport on Oahu at 6:40 p.m., bound for Molokai Airport, Walker said.
Most of the passengers were believed to be from Los Angeles.
Military search planes and helicopters were kept busy Thursday investigating reports of possible wreckage and oil slicks in the sea near where the plane was last reported. But none of the leads turned up anything as of nightfall Thursday, when the search was suspended until daybreak.
"People in aircraft are really looking for things, and they're spotting things that are normally there," Petty Officer Mason Cornish of the rescue center said. "Unfortunately, none of them (the leads) have come out positive."
Lost Off Radar
Panorama Air Flight 21 was lost off Honolulu Airport radar Wednesday when it was 3 1/2 miles off the west coast of Molokai, said Melissa Youngberg, a Coast Guard spokeswoman. Two Coast Guard helicopters, a C-130 airplane and a patrol boat were participating in the search off the island, she said.
Radar contact with the aircraft was lost at 6:52 p.m., said John Callahan, chief pilot for Panorama Air.
Youngberg said the Coast Guard launched its initial search after the Federal Aviation Administration allowed time for the pilot, Steve Baayoun, to make routine notification of the flight's completion.
Baayoun had been flying for the airline for six months, Callahan said.
The search began after a check of nearby airports failed to turn up any sign of the plane.
"As far as we know, they (the passengers) all were tourists," said Ken Fletcher, director of operations for Panorama Air. He did not release their names.
Five people from Los Angeles were scheduled to check into the Sheraton-Molokai on Wednesday night but never arrived, according to general manager Dale Stetson. The five were traveling in two parties, Stetson said.
George Harvey, an FAA representative, said weather in the area when the plane disappeared allowed for 15 miles visibility with scattered clouds at 1,500 feet and broken clouds at 3,000 feet. Winds were light at two knots, and rain showers were reported over Molokai, Harvey said.
The plane was flying at 1,500 to 1,600 feet, according to Carl Maddox, FAA area supervisor.
It was the second accident for the airline in a little more than a month. On Nov. 21, one person was injured when a Panorama Air Piper Chieftain crash-landed in a Honolulu park after an engine failed.
Fletcher said the missing airplane was not the same craft that crashed in November. The airline operates nine Piper Chieftains, he said.
Panorama Air Tours planes have been involved in three major crashes that left 19 people dead since the inter-island carrier began service in March, 1971.
A Panorama Air twin-engine Beechcraft 18 crashed into Mauna Loa volcano on the island of Hawaii on April 11, 1974, killing all 11 on board.
Five people were killed and four injured on July 24, 1973, when a twin-engine Beechcraft 18 owned by Alii Air Hawaii Inc., and chartered by Panorama Air, crashed after takeoff from Honolulu International Airport.
Three people died on Oct. 3, 1982, when a Panorama Air twin-engine Beechcraft slammed into the sea a quarter-mile off Oahu.