REPORTED ON SAVVYSTEWS.COM & BY BOBBY LAURIE ON HUFFPOST FIRST! BEFORE CNN, ABC AND ALL HAWAIIAN NEWS OUTLETS!
We’ve all read the stories and seen the images of the passengers and crew on board US Airways flight 1549 that fateful day when the Airbus A320 ditched in the Hudson River after hitting a flock of birds. Now it’s happened again with a smaller passenger aircraft off the shores of Hawaii. Sadly, not everyone survived.
A survivor’s amazing story
A Makani Kai Air flight, flown by a Cessna Grand Caravan to Honolulu from Kalaupapa, Molokai ditched into the ocean on December 11, 2013. Loretta Fuddy was one of the passengers. Though her name might not sound familiar you’ve heard about her — she’s the Hawaiian health official who approved the release of President Obama’s birth certificate. She was the only passenger that didn’t survive.
Ferdinand Puentes was one of the survivors. He had been working on Kalaupapa and was flying back to Honolulu. For him, this was routine. He had taken this flight many times prior to December 11th. On that day, though, he turned on his Go-Pro camera to film take-off, having earlier filmed a landing. Instead, his camera captured the harrowing accident from start to finish.
Ferdinand has allowed us to publish his photographs along with his account of what happened on board:
We were taking off and about 2 minutes into the flight with a slight left turn and gradual climb to reach our destine altitude of 6,000ft. there was a loud pop/bang noise from our single engine plane. Then, silence befell on us all with realization of what’s about to happen.
We’re in shock.
The plane was still in in-flight and banking left, the pilot then steered the plane towards land and leveled the plane steady. There were no screams and no one panicked. It was surreal, as if a slow motion spell was on me as I switched my views from watching the pilots effort to glide the plane, to the passengers & then view of the ocean that is ascending closer through the viewport of the plane very quickly.It took about 30 seconds from an altitude (in my opinion) of approximately 1,000-1,500ft to impact into the ocean. I was fumbling trying to get the life jacket out of the sealed bag and donning it. There were too many things to worry about that your heart and your soul can’t keep up to match the pace of your own thinking at that moment. As I was ready to step out I looked into the cabin of the plane one last time if everyone is alright and egress the plane. The look of shock has instill them all. As I stepped out into the ocean, I noticed how strong the energy of the current and swells of the ocean is. One of the key factors that made me calm in the ocean is that I am very comfortable within the oceans caress. I am a spear fisherman since my youth, so I swam up to and held on to the wing of the plane.
As I wait at the end of the wing of the plane, I watched a pair of the passengers proceed towards me.
One of them asked me to assist her with her life vest, so I did. As I helped her with the vest around her collar I’ve notice I was sinking. I haven’t inflated my life vest, I’m trying desperately to stay afloat but it was very difficult to do with steel toe boots, heavy denim jeans and long sleeve work clothes. I couldn’t continue to wrap the strap of the vest around her as I was in my own predicament trying to get situated myself. I also didn’t have mine on properly.
All of the passengers including the pilot has exited the plane. I pulled one of the cord to auto inflate the first chamber of my vest so I could stay afloat. Realizing that I couldn’t stay buoyant still, the pilot who was floating with a seat cushion handed his flotation device to me.
Another shocking moment came to me as I’ve noticed how much blood was covering his face. He had given instructions to stay together and not to hold on to the plane, just to be safe so it doesn’t sink with people holding on.Within a minute of releasing the plane, the current of the ocean has drifted us away from the crash site.
We were about half mile out from land. In my thought process I told myself “I can make that swim”. So, I said I’m going to try and head towards the shore. Another person was about to do the same trek to shore. Thats when we broke away from the group to make it to shore. I was constantly mumbling to myself that “I swam farther than this before, I can make it!”
Within ten minutes or so since impact, there was a plane that came into view and made itself known to us. That was a defining moment in that time, that hope has befell upon us. There was a overwhelming joy within me that someone knew we were in danger and could call for a rescue.
My attempt to swim to shore was very exhausting, my laces on one my boots were becoming undone and were about to slip off. I wanted to take my clothing off down to my board shorts so I could swim better. But with the water being cold and the surge of the waves slamming onto the reef, I decided not to. I didn’t want to have hyperthermia or tumbling on the sharp rocky shoreline.
Just as I was resting by my lonesome, here comes a Humpback whale breaking the waterline near me to breathe about 50ft or so. I screamed loudly mistakingly thinking I was going to be just like a seal being launched up from a Great White Shark or something. But at that brief moment as the whale peered at me with its eye and I gazed back at his knowing that there is some type of intelligence and understanding it held, that it felt as it pierced my soul.
It was a ephemeral swim together. As I settled from that whale experience I just floated there for a while, thinking of all my children, family & friends. I prayed that I wanted to hold them one last time. I just wanted to cry, thinking for the worst that was going to happen. Doubt has snuck into me. A long moment has pass… the plane has been constantly flying over us still continue to assure us there is hope. Next came a helicopter hovering over the group which was at that time appears to be about 2 miles away from where I am.As both the plane and the helicopter flying over us I continued again to swim to shore. I was around 50 yards away from shore, but the energy of the wave hitting the rocky cliff created a backwash which made it very difficult to get to shore. On shore there was a guy trying to direct me to a safer place to get on shore, to a place where the surf wasn’t as rough. I attempted to swim in the direction he commanded but the surge has broken my will.In my exhausted state, I noticed there was two more helicopter and the Coast Guard C-130 that were in the sky also. It made my hope and adrenaline start back up again. I watched the smaller helicopter with a cargo net type basket with a rescue swimmer in it plucking people out of the group that is far away from me. When it had returned and veered to my location I was in joy but yet exhausted mentally and physically. I almost didn’t have the strength to grab on to the rescue swimmer that guided me into the basket.When we were up dangling in the basket, it gave me a view to see the smoke signals that were the spot of the group. They were far, far away. As soon as I landed and gotten out of the basket, a paramedic came and guided me into the chair within the airport. I was shivering and it hurts. It looks as if the whole community were there to help. I got covered in blankets immediately before I’ve taken a seat. I took off my clothes till my board short were left so I could become dry faster and heat up quicker also.As I was being treated, I looked for the other survivors an asked if they’re okay, but I didn’t asked out loud in speaking. I asked with just a look and was answered and confirmed with their expression. We survived!The adrenaline in me starts to ease down, the pain and throbbing on my neck, shoulder and back is coming on fast. Every shiver from being cold is hurting. I’ve complained about it earlier and came with a neck brace and a board to strap me down so I don’t rotate my neck or spine.Just to be safe. I was loaded into the helicopter headed to Honolulu. That ride was rough in the beginning, my neck, shoulders and back was hurting from the vibrations of the helicopter. As the time went by the vibration of it soon felt like a massage. So we arrived at the airport in Honolulu waiting to be transferred to the ambulance and headed to Queens Hospital.
Thankfully, after the tests at the hospital were completed Mr. Puentes was cleared of any neck or spine injuries.
It’s unimaginable what one would do in a situation like this. Because of its size, this particular aircraft is not required to have flight attendants on board. Flight attendants are trained in emergency procedures and would impart instructions before and during the evacuation. The pilots on this aircraft did a stellar job getting this aircraft into the water as intact as possible, notifying the passengers of the location of their life vests and getting them evacuated from the aircraft.
We would like to thank Mr. Puentes for sharing his story and incredible photos.