The skydiving plane that crashed and burst into flames in Hawaii on Friday night, killing 11 people, had been involved in an earlier mishap in Northern California in which it reportedly stalled and spun out of control.
Citing an investigative report by the National Transportation Safety Board, the Associated Press reports that the Beechcraft 65 King Air stalled three times and spun out before the pilot managed to land it in the earlier incident. Fourteen skydivers who were on board at the time had jumped earlier than planned to get to safety.
That incident was blamed on pilot error, with investigators determining that a piece of horizontal stabilizer was missing and that the elevator had broken off.
Three years after that incident, investigators have begun sifting through the charred wreckage of the same aircraft after it suffered what is believed to be the worst U.S. civil aviation accident since 2011.
Eleven people, including the pilot, died after the small twin-engine plane crashed and burst into flames at around 6:30 p.m. Friday in Hawaii as family and friends hoping to watch their loved ones skydive looked on.
The plane, operated by Oahu Parachute Center, had just taken off on a “sunset tandem” skydiving excursion near Dillingham Airfield in Oahu when the accident occurred.
Timothy Sakahara, a spokesman for the Hawaii Department of Transportation, said Saturday that authorities have confirmed there were 11 people on board the plane that went down shortly after taking off Friday night from Dillingham Airfield, a small North Shore airport.
Honolulu Fire Department Chief Manuel P. Neves said witnesses reported seeing the plane coming straight down before it hit a fence line shortly after take-off.
Justin Kepa, a witness, told Hawaii News Now that he watched the plane go down. “We saw big smoke. We saw big fire, firemen trying to put it out. Crazy,” he said.
Footage shows smoke rising high into the air, visible from a distance.
“It is very difficult,” Neves told local reporters at the scene. “In my 40 years as a firefighter here in Hawaii, this is the most tragic aircraft incident we’ve had.”
The crash is one of the deadliest civilian air disasters in Hawaiian history, according to Hawaii News Now, which interviewed a local skydiving coach who knew those on board. The diver said that there were three students, five skydivers and the pilot onboard when the plane went down.
Some of the divers' families were reportedly waiting at the airport at the time of the crash.
The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board have taken over the investigation into the tragedy.