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10 die in plane crash on Hawaii volcano

Published: Monday, Sept. 27 1999 12:00 a.m. MDT

HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK, Hawaii -- Rescue crews scoured the smoky wreckage of a twin-engine plane searching for the bodies of 10 people killed following the worst air disaster in Hawaii in a decade.

The wreckage of the Big Island Air plane was spotted early Sunday about 10,500 feet up the Mauna Loa Volcano, an active volcano which soars to 13,600 feet.Some victims were badly burned and parts of the wreckage so charred that they "just disintegrated" in the hands of recovery crews, said Doug Lentz of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, in which the volcano is located.

"There was a lot of dismemberment and it was very difficult to discern all the bodies," Lentz said. "There is some confusion as to whether we have all the bodies."

The bodies were taken to Hilo Hospital, which said it had remains for only nine victims, Lentz said. The hospital referred all questions to park officials.

Rescuers said the twin-engine Piper Navajo Chieftain slid about 75 yards, rolled over and burned but remained mostly intact, said Gail Minami, the park's operations supervisor.

The twin-engine Piper Navajo Chieftain was reported overdue at Kona International Airport at 7:20 p.m. Saturday, said Marilyn Kali, spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation.

The last contact from the plane came at 5:21 p.m., one hour after it took off from the airport, and the pilot did not say there were any problems at that time, Minami said.

The fact there was no distress call means the pilot could have smashed into jagged lava without warning, Minami said. "It was a hard landing, a hard impact," she said.

"This is a shock to us," said Roy Mann, Big Island Air's director of operations. "It just simply hurts. Our hearts and our prayers go out to all those families that have been impacted by this whole thing."

Mann declined to release any information about the passengers. He also declined to name the pilot but said that person had more than 10,000 hours of flight experience.

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