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Medical transport plane with 3 crewmembers goes missing en route to Big Island

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A medical transport plane with three crew members on board has gone missing on a flight between Maui and the Big Island, according to a statement from the company.

“Global Medical Response can confirm that one of our Hawaii Life Flight emergency fixed wing airplanes based in Maui, went off radar while en route to pick up a patient in Waimea, Big Island,” the company statement issued Friday said.

The patient was not on the plane, which lost radar contact at about 9:30 p.m. Thursday, it said.

“We are in the process of reaching out to their families,” the statement said.

The company is also assisting search and rescue teams.

The Coast Guard said aircraft controllers lost radar contact with the plane about 17 miles (27 kilometers) south of Hana, Maui, in the Maui Channel of the Pacific Ocean.

The Coast Guard said it is searching with boats, a helicopter and a cargo plane. The guard said one of its aircraft spotted a sheen in the search area. It also reported one of its patrol boats recovered debris in the area, but it said there was no confirmation that it was from the missing plane.

Global Medical Response said it has temporarily paused Hawaii Life Flight transports, prompting Gov. Josh Green to issue an emergency proclamation allowing the state to supplement Hawaiʻi's medical flight capacity in the interim.

The proclamation allows the Hawaiʻi National Guard to fly Blackhawk helicopters to transport patients. It will also allow AirMed International, a sister company of Hawaii Life Flight, to bring a plane and crew members to Hawaiʻi from the U.S. mainland.

Many hospitals on Hawaiʻi's more rural islands are small and offer limited medical services compared to Honolulu's larger hospitals. Patients with more serious, urgent conditions often need to be transported to Oʻahu for care.

Green, who is also a physician and long worked as an emergency room doctor on the Big Island before becoming governor this month, spoke from personal experience about the importance of the flights.

“I’m very familiar with this having for decades cared for patients and relied on this extraordinary service when someone’s had a big heart attack or there’s been a terrible accident,” Green said at a news conference.

He said typically 10 to 15 patients a day are transferred between islands.

Speedy Bailey, general manager of American Medical Response Hawaii, said patients won't incur any additional costs due to the transportation alternatives that will be used.

"We’re urging our residents to be extra cautious over the coming week to help us keep medical transport needs on Hawaiʻi Island to a bare minimum. Our medical providers are working together to help pool resources so that we can keep as many of our patients on-island as possible," Hawaiʻi County Mayor Mitch Roth said in a statement.

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