HONOLULU – The Coast Guard rescued a man and woman in the ocean off Hawaii on Friday, nearly a day after the plane they were in disappeared from radar.
"What a way to celebrate aloha Friday," Coast Guard spokeswoman Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle said of the relief in finding the two alive. "We all had big smiles on our faces in the office when we heard the news."
A helicopter crew hoisted them out of the water about 11:30 a.m. Friday, Molle said. They were a mile and a half offshore near Kona, the Coast Guard said.
Paramedics met them at Kona airport and treated them for minor injuries, Molle said. They were identified as David McMahon, 26, and Sydnie Uemoto, in her 20s.
There was no immediate word on the plane. The plane's pilot radioed about an air emergency at 3:15 p.m. Thursday. After that, air traffic controllers lost contact with the pilot and the plane no longer appeared on radar, the Coast Guard said.
The pilot of the twin-engine Piper PA23 reported engine problems before ditching in the ocean about 27 miles northwest of Kona, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
The plane had departed from west Oahu and was headed for Kona, the FAA said.
On Friday morning, a visiting New Zealand air force P3 plane spotted debris about 50 miles northwest of Kona. The Coast Guard sent a ship to the scene to see if the debris was from the missing plane. The New Zealand plane is in Hawaii to participate in the Rim of the Pacific military exercises. The U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force also joined in the search.
A tour helicopter later spotted wreckage about 9 miles north of Kona airport and reported it to the Coast Guard, Molle said. A Coast Guard helicopter went to the wreckage location and spotted two people in the water wearing life jackets, she said.
"They had been attempting to swim to shore through the night," Molle said.
It's not yet clear what happened to them.
"A lot of times these cases don't really end well," Molle said. "When we have a happy ending, what more could you ask for?"
McMahon's father, Richard McMahon, summed up his feelings: "Big-time relieved." He said he was on his way from Oahu to the Big Island on Friday to see his son, a Kailua, Oahu, resident and a commercial pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He said his son rented a plane for additional flying hours for his commercial pilot's license.
The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate.