Facts Lacking in West Molokai Plane Crash
The crash of a small plane on Molokai’s west end on Thursday, Feb. 27 went unreported for days, and information on the event is still missing. Last week, authorities identified the pilot as John Weiser, Jr., owner of Panda Ranch and grass air strip in the Papohaku area.
Weiser was flying a twin-engine Partenavia P68 Observer, reportedly at night, but it is currently unknown whether the crash occurred during take-off or landing, according to Ian Gregor, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Pacific Division public affairs manager. A man who found the damaged aircraft reported it to the FAA on Saturday, March 1.
Federal regulations require an aircraft operator to immediately report an accident to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB.)
Two FAA investigators traveled to Molokai last Tuesday. They examined the aircraft, reviewed its maintenance records, and spoke with the pilot and the man who found the plane, said Gregor, via email. No report has yet been released.
“Last week I saw the plane in the trees,” a west Molokai resident, who wished to remain anonymous, said last Friday. “I thought ‘that’s weird… Weiser has his plane in the tree.’ He crashes a lot. I thought nothing more about it.”
She didn’t think more about it until the following Monday, that is, when she saw emergency vehicles “zoom by” and gather near the runway.
“I thought, ‘that’s strange, the plane had been there for four days,’” the resident said, describing Weiser himself as “a very strange guy — nobody really knows him [here].”
The resident said someone who had spoken to Weiser afterward recounted him casually attributing the crash to a gust of wind.
“He’s been flying here for over 20 years. He’s had many crashes,” the resident continued.
The FAA confirmed Weiser has a history of incidents.
Weiser’s tour company, Tora Flight Adventures, was fined $50,000 in 2007 for not having the proper certification to operate commercial tours. It is unclear whether the company is still in operation.
In July, 2009, NTSB records show an accident report describing Weiser landing at the airstrip at night and unexpectedly hitting the ground, resulting in structural damage to the aircraft but no injuries to the two people on board.
Later that year in December, 2009, the FAA revoked Weiser’s pilot’s license for violations including careless or reckless operation, falsification of logbooks or records, and other regulation infringements.
Revocations last for one year, after which time pilots can re-apply. The FAA issued Weiser a private pilot’s license for single engine aircraft and helicopters in July 2012, which he still holds, according to FAA records.
However, that license would not cover operation of the twin-engine Partenavia, which crashed last month. Gregor did not comment on whether any action would be taken on this apparent violation.
The NTSB has also not yet determined whether the crash qualifies as an accident or an incident.
“The categorization depends on the severity of the damage to the aircraft and whether anyone on board is seriously injured,” said Gregor.
News reports have been mixed on whether or not others were on board and may have been injured, and the FAA’s preliminary information does not include these facts.
The aircraft’s tail number, N947MZ, is registered to Affordable Casket Outlet in Honolulu, according to FAA records. Weiser is a part owner of the casket company. When the Dispatch called several numbers for Weiser and found they had all been disconnected, Affordable Casket was contacted. An employee confirmed that Weiser worked there but that he “comes in when he comes in” and would not give a contact number for him.
Despite his questionable flight history, some residents have said Weiser has been generous in offering them rides to Honolulu in his planes in the past.