Jet that flew ebola victim lands in Lihue

LIHUE — A special jet that recently flew a victim of the ebola virus landed on Kauai Saturday.

The tail number is the same as the medical evacuation flight for ebola victim Dr. Kent Brantly, who was flown from Liberia on Aug. 2 to Dobbins Air Reserve Base near the Atlanta hospital where he would eventually recover from the virus.

The same twin engine Gulfstream G-1159A jet, known by its tail number identifier, N173PA, departed McCellan Airfield in Sacramento, California at 3:09 p.m. (PST) on Oct. 11. The nonstop flight landed at Lihue Airport at 4:45 p.m. (HST).

The plane registration is in Wilmington, Delaware, and it is owned by Phoenix Air Group based in Cartersville, Georgia. The company contracts as an air charter, air ambulance, air cargo and military training service.

Jennifer Coleman, charter coordinator for Phoenix Air, said the N173PA is indeed the same plane. However, since that August ebola victim flight, the plane has been converted back for military and non-medical use.

“The plane is on Kauai throughout a Navy mission,” Coleman said. “It is specifically there for the Navy.”

Phoenix Air designed the medical aircraft with special equipment to handle high-risk cases like ebola. They keep one other special purpose medical plane in service.

“We have a twin aircraft exactly like that gray bird and that one is continuing to do the medical mission,” Coleman added.

The online flight log shows that N173PA has flown all over the world since Oct. 1. It has been to several locations more than once and this is its first stop in Lihue since flying to Europe, the Middle East and the Eastern U.S.

Phoenix Air contracts with Air Service Hawaii ground services. There are three corporate grade jet aircraft on Kauai for a Navy mission this month.

A Dassault Falcon left Lihue for PMRF on Monday. The first Gulfstream G-III aircraft that was fitted with a special optics dome for high altitude monitoring flew for Barking Sands on Tuesday morning. The second Gulfstream G-III (the former medical plane) remains parked at Lihue airport behind the UPS customer service center.

The planes stay at Lihue Airport until they are taking part in an activity at Pacific Missile Range Facility. When they are not in use, they fly back to Lihue.

Josephine Bonaparte, base manager for Air Service Hawaii, said the planes come to Lihue first to clear Department of Agriculture and for the convenience of the air crews finding rental cars and accommodations.

“The flight crews that came in with this plane are here specifically to do a mission at PMRF,” Bonaparte said.

There are the occasional medical missions, but the bulk of the Phoenix Air flights to Kauai are here for military service, she said. In this case there are top secret cameras and computer equipment to monitor the missile launches.

“There were no patients brought off the plane with ebola,” she added.

While on the ground, the Air Service Hawaii crews provide fueling, lavatory and other tarmac services. They also arrange for transportation and hotel for the crews prior to their arrival.

“It’s red carpet service,” Bonaparte said.

Thomas Eric Duncan was the first ebola victim in the United States and died on Sept. 28 in a Dallas hospital. He was not yet diagnosed with the disease when he flew aboard a commercial aircraft to the United States from Africa.


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