On December 11th, Makani Kai Air took flight on a trip from Kalaupapa to Honolulu but the airplane's single turbo pop engine failed shortly after departure, causing the aircraft to crash into the adjacent ocean. Spear fisherman Ferdinand Puentas, one of the nine passengers aboard the Cessna Grand Caravan, took out his GoPro just before takeoff to record the flight he had taken so many times before, though, this time, he captured the entire, distressing ordeal.
Now, nearly a month to the day since the survivor's traumatic experience, Puentas has released his footage, sharing his firsthand account. He recalls, “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.”
In an exclusive statement for Savvy Stews, a website dedicated to travel news, Puentas goes on to recount the harrowing events that followed the crash as his mind raced. He says, “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.”
In the escape that followed, Puentas says he felt comfortable in the water as a spear fisherman since his youth. Problems arose when he realized he hadn't inflated his life vest and the weight of his steel-toed boots and soaked denim jeans were weighing him down. Luckily, Puentas was able to inflate his vest with the help from the pilot who handed over a seat cushion he was using to remain afloat. While doing so, Puentas noticed the pilot's face covered in blood. Despite his predicament, he was heroically instructing everyone on how to survive.
The pilot instructed the group to release the plane, so as to avoid sinking with it. Upon letting go, they were taken by a current. At this point, Puentas noticed land at about half a mile out and thought he could make the swim. Now, he admits, “My attempt to swim to shore was very exhausting.” He wanted to disrobe as much as he could to swim with more ease but made a better judgement call not to, in case of catching hypothermia or colliding with a sharp, rocky shoreline.
Over the course of his swim, Puentas was followed overhead by a plane and a helicopter and, to his utter shock, met by a humpback whale, which led him to feel like it “pierced his soul,” as they met eye to eye. Luckily, no harm was done and the survivor was able to continue on his swim to the shore. He says, “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 had 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.”
Fortunately, Puentas was able to push through his mental and physical exhaustion enough to make it to the planes and grab hold of a rescue swimmer who would then guide him to safety. In the end, all but one of the passengers in the dramatic crash survived.