The crash of a Star Marianas Piper PA-32-300 Cherokee Six aircraft early yesterday morning claimed the lives of three people—the plane’s pilot and two of his passengers.
A friend of the pilot confirmed that the deceased Star Marianas employee was Luis Silva, a 50-something native of Tampico, Tamaulipas, Mexico, who had only been working for the inter-island carrier the past couple of months. Prior to his employment at Star Marianas, Silva worked for Freedom Air.
Press secretary Angel Demapan separately confirmed that the two other fatalities of the crash are Chinese nationals, a 29-year-old man and a 26-year-old woman.
Four other passengers of the ill-fated plane survived the crash and were airlifted from the crash site, located about 4 nautical miles from the airport. They are listed in critical but stable condition at the Commonwealth Health Center. (See related story)
U.S. Coast Guard petty officer Raymond Sablan told Saipan Tribune that a U.S. Navy helicopter discovered the crash site at 10:32am yesterday. The crash site is east of the Voices of America Tower on Tinian and is inaccessible by land.
Shortly after the discovery of the downed plane, Navy personnel airlifted the four survivors from the crash site and transported them to the airport where they were eventually flown to the Saipan hospital.
U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Commander Morgan Roper earlier confirmed that four of the seven people aboard the plane survived the crash.
USCG Search and Rescue Specialist Lee Putnam told the Guam-based Pacific News Center that two of the bodies were still in the fuselage and one was outside the plane on the ground.
Putnam said the area has been roped off and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, acting on behalf of the National Transportation and Safety Board, has joined CNMI investigators at the scene.
Demapan said the FBI has taken over the investigation until such time that NTSB officials are on the ground.
The bodies of the three fatalities were reportedly en route to Saipan and were set to arrive around 7:30pm last night aboard a DPS Fire boat at Sugar Dock.
Star Marianas statement
Star Marianas’ Shaun Christian told Saipan Tribune in an email that his company is very sorry about the tragic loss and added that Star Marianas is fully cooperating with authorities to ascertain the cause of the crash.
“We are doing everything possible to assist the victims and their families. We are also cooperating with the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] and NTSB in investigating the cause of the accident and we are not at liberty to discuss the specifics of the accident at this time. We want to thank DPS, CPA, U.S. Coast Guard, CHC, THC, Red Cross, and other rescue and response personnel.”
Christian also corrected a prior media release that stated that Star Marianas has already notified the victims’ next of kin.
“Apparently, the notifications to the families in China have not been made at this time. Therefore, we are unable to provide the name list of the passengers.”
Search and rescue effort
Before the plane’s discovery on Tinian, three boats and a U.S. Navy helicopter conducted a search and rescue effort for the Star Marianas plane, which authorities initially presumed crashed in the ocean.
In a news briefing shortly before noon yesterday at the Agingan Point, which is one of the closest strips of land to Tinian, Special Assistant for Homeland Security and Emergency Management Marvin Seman said a U.S. Navy helicopter as well as the Department of Public Safety’s Zodiac boat, a boat from the Commonwealth Ports Authority, and another boat from the Division of Environmental Quality combed the waters between Saipan and Tinian for the missing airplane.
He said 57 personnel in all from various government and federal agencies on both Saipan and Tinian were involved in the search and rescue effort.
Gov. Eloy S. Inos was also present at the command center yesterday morning, along with Lt. Gov. Jude U. Hofschneider, DPS Commissioner James C. Deleon Guerrero, CPA executive director Maryann Lizama, U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Ken McCain, and other officials.
Inos was supposed to speak during the impromptu briefing but, according to press secretary Angel Demapan, he begged off from making comments because of the sketchy information about the lost plane.
Christian said the company reported their missing Piper PA-32-300 Cherokee Six aircraft to the Commonwealth Ports Authority at 3:15am yesterday. He said the plane left the West Tinian Airport at 2:41am enroute to Saipan International Airport.