NTSB releases report on air ambulance crash in Hawai’i waters 6,000 feet deep
On Dec. 15, 2022, a Hawai’i Life Flight pilot was flying to Waimea on the Big Island to pick up a patient when something went wrong with the Raytheon twin-engine aircraft, tail number N13GZ.
“Uhh, 13GZ is off navigation here… we’re gonna… we’re gonna give it a try,” the pilot told an air traffic control specialist in Honolulu.
Eleven seconds later, a final radio transmission was made before the aircraft crashed into open ocean waters. A voice, believed to be the pilot, said: “Hang on.”
On Thursday, the National Transportation Safety Board released its preliminary aviation investigation report about the crash.
The report said a witness on another plane saw the air ambulance crash into the Maui Channel off the coast of Kaupo, where the waters are an estimated 6,000 feet (more than a mile) deep. Despite a four-day intensive search by the U.S. Coast Guard and others, the aircraft and the three aboard, pilot Brian Treptow, flight paramedic Gabe Camacho of O’ahu and flight nurse Courtney Parry of Maui, were never found.
Deep water search and recovery efforts are pending.
The flight, operated by Guardian Flight that owns Hawai’i Life Flight, departed Kahului Airport on Maui at 10:53 p.m. It was dark, so it flew an instrument flight rules flight plan. The air ambulance was destined for the Waimea-Kohala Airport to pick up a patient from Queen’s North Hawai’i Community Hospital to be transported to more advanced medical facilities in Honolulu.
A preliminary review of archived voice communication information from the Federal Aviation Administration revealed that the aircraft flew on an east-southeasterly heading and along the shoreline of Maui, rising to about 13,000 feet.
An air control specialist, shortly before the crash, instructed the pilot to drop to 8,000 feet and the pilot acknowledged it.
Next, at 11:12 p.m., the specialist instructed the pilot to fly a heading of 180°, and he cleared the flight to fly direct to Tammi, the initial approach marker for Waimea-Kohala Airport, and the pilot acknowledged the instructions.
A minute later, the specialist contacted the pilot, asking him to verify that he was flying “direct to Tammi” as previously instructed. That’s when the pilot responded “we’re gonna give it a try.”
A witness who was flying a low-wing Piper airplane from Hilo to Honolulu reported seeing the accident airplane well above and to the north of his northwesterly flight path.
He said after the air control specialist reported N13GZ to his 3 o’clock position at 12,000 ft, descending to 8,000 ft, he continued watching the lights of the airplane.
The witness said the airplane continued southbound, began a right turn and entered a spiraling right descending turn, which steepened as the descent increased.
The witness saw the airplane continue to descend until it crashed into the water. Shortly after the airplane impacted the water, the witness lost sight of the airplane’s lights.
N13GZ was equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance–Broadcast (ADS–B), which provides aircraft position information via satellite navigation or other sensors and periodically broadcasts it, enabling the aircraft to be tracked.
The information can be received by air traffic control ground stations as a replacement for secondary surveillance radar, because no interrogation signal is needed from the ground.
According to archived FAA ADS-B data, after the airplane departed Kahului, it initially proceeded north, then it turned eastbound, which is consistent with the Onohi Two standard instrument departure procedure.
As the airplane neared the northeastern shores of Maui, while climbing to 11,000 feet, it eventually turned southbound along the Victor 11 airway. The ADS-B data eventually stopped near where the witness observed the accident airplane impact the water.
The report does not mention the weather conditions or any possible mechanical issues with the aircraft.
The FAA issued an alert notice at 11:27 p.m., and an extensive search was launched by the United States Coast Guard. During the search, portions of airplane wreckage were found floating near and in the vicinity of the last known location of the accident airplane. Neither the airplane nor its occupants have been located. The search was officially suspended on Dec. 19.
The airplane was equipped with a cockpit voice recorder and a Dukane underwater acoustical beacon, as well as an Appareo Vision 1000 cockpit-mounted Airborne Image Recording System.
On the Big Island, a vigil was held for the crew of the crash.