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Courtesy of County of Kaua‘i
Rescue workers were dispatched after the crash of a Civil Air Patrol airplane carrying pilots James Degnan and David Parker, Monday morning at the Kalalau Lookout parking lot in Koke‘e State Park.
Courtesy of Civil Air Patrol
James Degnan, 76, is remembered by friends as an “icon” and a talented pilot with a great sense of humor. He was killed in a plane crash in Kalalau Valley Sunday.
LIHU‘E — James Degnan and David Parker had about 100 years of pilot experience between the two of them.
Both Degnan, 76, and Parker, 78, were aboard a Cessna 172 when it went down in Kalalau Valle during a Civil Air Patrol training exercise Sunday afternoon.
“They were serving with honor, doing what they love to do,” said Capt. Joseph Quentin, the CAP Kaua‘i Squadron commander. “They were great pilots, they were exceptional trainers, they were an integral part of our team, and what makes Kaua‘i pilots so great.”
Both men got their start as pilots in the Vietnam War, and went on to fly commercial planes before retiring on Kaua‘i. Neither could stay out of air post-retirement, though.
Parker, a Kapa‘a resident, served in the CAP for three years. Degnan, a Princeville resident, served for more than a decade.
Linda Christopherson-Bearden, the CAP safety officer and emergency-response coordinator, was scheduled to be on the Sunday flight with Parker and Degnan, but was assigned to a different plane shortly before takeoff.
Though she only met Parker for the first time last weekend, she was close with Degnan, who she remembers as an “icon.”
“I couldn’t say anything bad about him if I tried,” said Christopherson-Bearden. “He’s always out there, he’s always helping, he’s always giving.”
One of her last memories of Degnan was from this Sunday, when the 76-year-old got down on his knees to change the tire on her plane.
“That’s just the kind of person he was,” said Christopherson-Bearden.
Both men took off at their assigned launch time Sunday, Quentin said, on a tsunami-warning-training mission. Since only 20% of the island is covered by sirens, CAP alerts the rest of the region in case of an emergency.
“Everybody was given the same instruction — this is an exercise, don’t put yourself at risk,” said Quentin. “I assume that they followed that order.”
Quentin reported that he spoke to the pilots throughout the course of the flight — at takeoff, crossing ‘Ele‘ele, and when they began the exercise, at which point they were expected to go radio dark for 15 minutes.
At around 3:15 p.m., first
responders received reports of a plane crash near Koke‘e.
Personnel aboard the Kaua‘i Fire Department’s emergency helicopter Air 1 located the site of the crash a few thousand feet below the Kalalau Lookout on Sunday, and recovered the bodies of the two men the following morning.
The cause of the crash is currently under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Agency.
A Facebook post identifying the victims received an outpouring of community support from those who knew them.
Kilauea resident Kristin Schwichtenberg, a long-time friend of Degnan, described him as “an amazing human,” and fondly remembered his sense of humor. She met Degnan through her father, Tom Schwichtenberg, another long-time friend, who spent most mornings having coffee with the pilot.
“I feel very lucky to have called Jim a friend for the past 15 years…He had such a passion and the best stories about flying from his military service to commercial airlines to Civil Air Patrol,” she said. “I always enjoyed when he would stop by my workplace to embarrass me with a joke or just a friendly smile and hello.”
The Kaua’i Composite Squadron of CAP released an official statement about the pilots on Wednesday which reads as follows:
“Our hearts and thoughts are with the families of Jim and David, and we appreciate the condolences and support expressed to us by the people of Kaua‘i and beyond. Blue skies and tail-winds, Jim and David.”
Guthrie Scrimgeour, reporter, can be reached at 647-0329 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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