The health director who approved the release of President Obama’s birth certificate has died in a plane crash, Hawaiian officials said Thursday.
Loretta Fuddy died after the Cessna Grand Caravan aircraft she was travelling on went down shortly after leaving Kalaupapa Airport at around 3:15 p.m. local time (10:15 a.m. ET) on Wednesday.
The other eight people on board were rescued, Richard Schuman, president of Makani Kai Air, told NBC News early Thursday, adding that that there was no indication as to why the plane had crashed.
Fuddy hit the headlines two years ago when she approved a waiver request allowing Obama to access certified copies of his birth certificate, signed by the delivery doctor, Obama’s mother and the local registrar. His mother, then 18, signed her name (Stanley) Ann Dunham Obama.
So-called "birthers" opposed to Obama including real estate mogul Donald Trump had long questioned why Obama hadn't ensured the long form was released.
Hawaiian senator J. Kalani English led the tributes to the 65-year-old saying she, “will be dearly missed,” by people on the islands.
“I would like to extend my most heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of the Department of Health Director Loretta Fuddy, who tragically passed away in a plane crash late Wednesday afternoon,” he said. “Loretta was a true public servant and friend of the people….. She will be dearly missed.”
Fellow lawmaker Will Espero also paid tribute to Fuddy on his Facebook page.
"It is with great sadness to hear of the passing of Department of Health Director Loretta Fuddy,” he wrote. “She was a respected professional who served our state with pride and distinction. Rest in peace with the angels Director Fuddy.”
After being alerted to the crash, the U.S. Coast Guard scrambled two helicopters and a Hercules plane to the site, which was about a mile from the shore. Rescue swimmers were also deployed and they winched three passengers onto the helicopters.
A radio operator onboard the rescue plane posted this picture of the rescue on Instagram.
“Picture is not great, but you can see two smoke signals in water where an airplane crash was,” Joseph Ferguson wrote.
He told NBC News that usually they would drop rescue gear into the water for the survivors but because the helicopters had arrived quickly so that was not required.
“We acted as the on scene commander,” Ferguson, an avionics electrical technician, third class, said. “So we control all the different assets flying around there and made sure no one flew into that air space.”
Maui Fire Rescue were involved in bringing others to safety.
The flight was due to travel from Molokai to Oahu. The pilot was among the survivors.
Schuman said the survivors were treated for non-life threatening injuries.
“They were admitted to hospital and now some of them have gone home or to hotels,” he said. “They’re all being taken care of.”
Schuman gave credit to the pilot, who had over 30 years of experience and had been working with the airline for around two years.
"He did what he was trained to do and the rest of it’s in God’s hands,” he said.
A spokesman from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) told NBC News they were sending, "at least one investigator to the scene."
"It's always a difficult situation when you're not able to get everybody out," Honolulu Fire Capt. Terry Seelig told Hawaii News Now.
NBC News Lou Doubois contributed to this report.
First published December 12 2013, 8:12 AM