OAHU, Hawaii – A small, twin-engine plane used for skydiving crashed in the Hawaiian island of Oahu on Friday, killing all eleven people aboard, authorities said. The Federal Aviation Administration initially believed there were nine people on board but have since revised that number. Names and ages of the victims weren’t immediately released.
The King Air plane burst into flames upon hitting the ground near the Dillingham Airfield around 6:30 p.m. local time. The airfield will remain closed until further notice, officials said.
All eleven passengers were pronounced dead at the scene, officials said. There were six employees and three customers on the flight, said Tim Sakahara of Hawaii’s Department of Transportation, citing preliminary information. The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating.
Honolulu Fire Chief Manuel Neves said family members of those onboard were nearby and likely witnessed the plane go down. “It is very difficult. In my 40 years as a firefighter here in Hawaii, this is the most tragic aircraft incident we’ve had,” Neves said in a news conference.
Witnesses said the plane appeared to have problems during takeoff, noticing that it was unsteady on the runway. “We saw big smoke. We saw a big fire and firemen trying to put it out — crazy,” witness Justin Kepa told CBS affiliate KGMB.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said he was closely monitoring developments of the crash. “At this time our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the victims,” Caldwell tweeted.
The crash on Friday is considered one of the deadliest in Hawaii’s modern history. In 1981, 11 people were killed when a twin-engine plane crashed into Pearl Harbor. And in 1992, nine people died when a touring aircraft crashed into a mountainous area at Haleakala, KGMB reported, citing FAA records.