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Plane blows engine, loses power: ‘We’re gonna crash!’

Posted at 6:00 PM, Oct 23, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-23 18:00:10-04

(CNN) — Terrified passengers called loved ones to say goodbye as their powerless airplane coasted toward an emergency landing on a highway in Hawaii, a man on board said afterward.

The passenger, who asked to remain anonymous, spoke to Hawaii News Now about the frightening flight, which ended with no injuries to the eight passengers and two pilots on board the small island-hopper commercial plane.

The trouble began about 13 minutes into the flight Monday night from Maui to Hawaii’s Big Island, the passenger said, when there was a loud bang and then a loss of power.

“It just went ‘boom’ and then … there was a series of sparks and stuff flying out of the aircraft,” the man said.

The pilots turned the crippled single-engine Cessna, operated by Mokulele Airlines, around and headed back toward Maui.

As the plane coasted in the dark, passengers braced for the worst, the passenger said. “I think we’re gonna crash!” and “I love you” were some of the phrases he heard.

An airline expert told Hawaii News Now that the aircraft’s apparent “catastrophic engine failure” was a “worst-case scenario.”

“I give (the pilots) a 10, a 10-plus because any time you … lose power, you’re coming down rapidly,” said Jeff Erb, a commercial pilot and former flight instructor. “You have very few options.”

The anonymous passenger said the pilots “pointed the plane sort of — not a direct nose dive — but we definitely dropped the nose down and started picking up speed again.”

That maneuver, Erb explained, allowed the pilots to keep the aircraft gliding for a longer time while they looked for a place to land.

Spotting the highway below, the pilots began to descend. But the passenger told Hawaii News Now that the plane’s high speed was a concern — as were power lines, traffic lights and even cars on the roadway.

“We were coming in roughly two or three times faster than a normal landing approach,” he said.

“We were coming in so fast and so hard and all the cars and everything, I thought for sure we were not going to do too well with this landing.”

Passengers screamed as the Cessna’s landing gear hit the highway, the man said. The aircraft knocked over a couple of highway signs before skidding to a stop.

All aboard were shaken but safe.

“Everybody was just sort of hugging each other and hugging the pilots and stuff,” the passenger said.

“I think the pilots did an exceptional job. I think they were in shock.”

National Transportation Safety Board investigators inspected the plane, which was moved to an empty lot near Wailea, as they try to determine why its engine failed.

Hawaii News Now contacted Mokulele Airlines for a comment but did not receive a response.

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