Debate Erupts Anew Over Dillingham Airfield After Two Killed In Small Plane Crash
Updated: 2/23/20, 7:10 a.m.
Dillingham Airfield on Oahu’s North Shore has been closed following a plane crash that killed two people Saturday morning. The fatal crash has rekindled debate over the airfield's future.
One pilot was killed when a single-engine, two-seat Cessna crash-landed near the airfield during what was preliminarily described as a training flight. The second pilot later died after being evacuated to an area hospital.
The city medical examiner's office is working to identify the crash victims.
The plane was owned by the Honolulu Soaring Club and was used to tow gliders, although it was not towing a glider at the time of the crash.
Friends of the victims said both men were experienced pilots.
Until further notice, the air space and airfield will be closed, said Tim Sakahara, state transportation department spokesman. He said it would be closed at least until Sunday out of concern for the safety of first responders and an abundance of caution.
Federal investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board are expected to arrive Sunday to conduct an investigation.
The airfield - which is leased by the state from the U.S. Army - will remain closed until further notice.
The state plans to turn the airfield back to the military. Several commercial skydiving, tour and pilot training operations are located at the airfield. But officials said running the airfield is not in the best interest of the state.
Sakahara said the future of the airfield will be determined later.
In June, 11 people died at the airfield in the crash of a skydiving airplane. The toll was one of the deadliest in state history and prompted calls for more stringent controls on skydiver and air tour operations.
Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz called for the airfield's permanent closure in a press release Saturday.
"It has become clear that Dilingham Airfield cannot continue to operate safely. Our obligation is to keep people safe, and the only way to do that is to keep the airfied closed. I urge the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and HDOT (state transportation department) to shut down the airfield until they can guarantee safety of operations at Dillingham," he said.
But at least one other lawmaker disagrees.
North Shore Sen. Gil Riviere called Schatz' statement disappointing.
"It is irresponsible to make such a definitive statement about the accident and the airfield before any facts of the matter have been established," Riviere said.
"The two pilots who lost their lives today were highly qualified aviators, devoted to the love of flight. They were very well liked and respected, trained countless new pilots, and eagerly shared their passion for aviation.
"These men absolutely loved to fly at Dillingham Airfield, so a call to shut down the airport within hours of their loss is truly insensitive and misinformed. God bless these good men, their loved ones and everyone who had the pleasure to know them."
This story is developing. Please check back for updates.