12 Rescued From Remote Coral Reef After Plane Trouble Forces Landing

A dozen people, including four high-profile Louisiana couples, have been shuttled off the atoll where their chartered plane's engine problems stranded them, and were spending a night on nearby Christmas Island.

A chartered jet was to fly all 12 to Honolulu on Friday, said Grady Timmons, Honolulu spokesman for The Nature Conservancy, which had arranged the trip to Palmyra Atoll, which the conservancy manages as a wildlife reserve.

Christmas Island is about 1,000 miles from Hawaii. The jet was expected to arrive in Honolulu between 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Friday, Timmons said.

The trip was originally expected to last five days, ending last Saturday. The group — Kevin and Winifred Reilly of Baton Rouge; Keith and Lila Ouchley of St. Francisville; John and Ann Koerner of New Orleans; and Thomas and Dathel Coleman — was not in danger.

The atoll — a ring-shaped coral reef encircling a lagoon — has food, water and electricity, said Kent Comstock, a director of Pacific Air Charters Inc., which flies the island charters.

Koerner, former owner of Barq's Root Beer, owns Koerner Capital Corp. Coleman owns New Orleans-based International-Matex Tank Terminals. Reilly is chairman and chief executive of Lamar Advertising Co. Ouchley is director of the Louisiana Nature Conservancy.

The group kept in touch with family by satellite phone, said Bill Kearney, an executive at a company owned by John Georges, the son-in-law of one of the couples.

He said their pickup was delayed because of limits on aircraft that can land on the island.

Georges contacted U.S. Sen. David Vitter's office, which worked with the Federal Aviation Administration to speed approval for adding an external fuel tank to the plane used to make the rescue, according to a spokesman.

Comstock said only small planes can land on Palmyra, so the group required two trips.

Sean Reilly of Baton Rouge said his brother Kevin wasn't too upset about being stuck on the island.

"Kevin is having a ball," he said. "He's a fly fisherman. He told me the only problem was there was a shortage of bone fishing flies."