CAP plane was off-course when it crashed

LIHU‘E — A preliminary report released by the National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday said the Civil Air Patrol plane that crashed in Kalalau Valley earlier this month, killing two, had been flying in poor weather conditions close to a mountain.

The crash site was about a half-mile off-course from the path the plane should have been on, CAP Kaua‘i Composite Squadron Commander Capt. Joseph Quentin said.

The plane, which was conducting a routine tsunami warning training exercise on March 20, was supposed to have “dropped back down to the ocean and flown the coast,” Quentin said, to conduct warnings at Kalalau Beach.

“Nothing should have pushed them up off the ocean,” said Quentin.

If weather conditions got rough, he added, then the pilots “would have turned left into the cloud and climbed, not turned into the valley.”

The flight departed Lihu‘e around 2:45 p.m. on March 20, in a southbound direction. The plane traveled west over Kalaheo and ‘Ele‘ele, and turned north along the coastline, according to the Federal Aviation Administration tracking data included in the report.

The plane then turned “easterly heading, towards an area of rising terrain,” before tracking data cuts out.

Witnesses told police they saw the Cessna 172N flying low in the mountainous Kalalau region before hearing “a loud crashing noise.”

A search and rescue helicopter later found the fragmented airplane wreckage in steep mountainous terrain and confirmed that there were no survivors.

The Kaua‘i Police Department identified the two men on board as pilot David Parker, 78, of Kapa‘a, and co-pilot James Degnan, 76, of Princeville. Both were long-time pilots who had served in Vietnam and flown commercially for many years.

Parker served in CAP’s Kaua‘i Composite Squadron for three years, and Degnan for more than a decade.

The NTSB report described weather conditions that day as “instrument meteorological conditions” (IMC), meaning that, due to weather, pilots would have to fly primarily by reference to instruments rather than by outside visual references.

Parker was comfortable flying in difficult conditions, having flown IMC just five days before the accident, Quentin said.

Quentin suspected that, due to their combined experience, the crash was not the result of pilot error.

“They’re super experienced guys — they were the guys teaching the rest of us how to do it,” said Quentin.

The NSTB is still investigating the cause of the crash and will release a detailed wreckage examination following recovery efforts.


Guthrie Scrimgeour, reporter, can be reached at 647-0329 or

  1. Rev Dr Malama March 31, 2022 10:19 am Reply

    Condolences to family, friends and community for the total loss of life and machine in our beloved upcountry park of Kokee and the Napali Wilderness area.
    I pray that the Airforce, ffa and all law enforcement agencies will not allow this to happen again by sweeping the facts undercover as in the terrible tragedy of the tour helicopter crash that was reported a while ago…. aged pilots and equipment are subject to rigorous tests and inspection so the question is what when wrong….

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