HONOLULU (AP) — A small plane crashed and burst into flames shortly after takeoff from Hawaii's Lanai island, killing three people and leaving three others injured, authorities said Thursday.
The crash occurred around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday about a mile from Lanai Airport, Maui County spokesman Rod Antone said.
The plane, a twin-engine Piper PA31, burned upon impact, according to Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor.
Maui County identified the dead as the pilot of the plane and two Department of Planning employees.
Two other planning employees were in critical condition and the deputy attorney for Corporation Counsel, the agency that provides legal services for the county, was in serious condition Thursday morning, according to a nursing supervisor at Queen's Medical Center and the county. All three survivors were airlifted to a Honolulu hospital.
Lanai is part of Maui County, and it's common for county officials to travel frequently between the islands via plane or ferry. The group had been on Lanai earlier Wednesday evening for a Lanai Planning Commission meeting and had chartered a return flight on Maui Air, the county said.
"The man who called 911, the deputy attorney for Corporation Counsel, said he had pulled two of his co-workers away from the fire as best he could because they could not move on their own," the county said in a statement. "All three survivors suffered burn injuries."
At a news conference on Thursday, Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa choked back tears, describing how county employees are like family.
"We're a very small community," he said. "Everybody knows each other. Everybody works with each other. Any kind of a loss like this really hits home."
State Sen. J. Kalani English, who represents Lanai, said the crash and a December ocean crash-landing off Molokai highlights how often government officials need to fly. Hawaii Health Director Loretta Fuddy died in the Dec. 11 flight that took off from Molokai's Kalaupapa peninsula.
"These flights are very familiar to me," said English, who flies frequently between Oahu, Maui, Molokai and Lanai. Inter-island travel is especially common for officials in Maui County, which includes Molokai and Lanai.