Updated: January 29, 2023
As the sun set Thursday, Hawaiʻi Life Flight crew and members of the Big Island community gathered at Old Kona Airport Beach Park to say goodbye to a flight nurse, a paramedic and a pilot.
The three crew members went missing after their medical transport aircraft apparently crashed on Dec. 15 in waters off the ʻAlenuihāhā Channel between Maui and the Big Island. After an extensive search by the Coast Guard and others, they were never found.
On Thursday, in blue flight suits, seven Life Flight crew stood on rocks along the shore watching the sun dip below the horizon. They embraced. They wept.
Big Island residents, emergency responders and hospital workers stood on the beach in silence, many also weeping during the sunset vigil.
“I think it was part of the healing process for us just to reflect on our fallen crew members,” said Lori Cannon, regional clinical educator and flight nurse for Life Flight who helped organize the vigil. “We needed this — for us and the community.”
The medical transport aircraft, a King Air twin-engine propeller plane, went down just over a week ago. Global Medical Response, owners of Hawaii Life Flight, confirmed last week the crew was en route to pick up a patient in Waimea when it disappeared from radar.
The Honolulu Control Facility reported losing radar contact with the plane about 15 nautical miles offshore south of Hana on Maui. The search was called off after five days. There have been no confirmed recoveries of the plane or the victims.
During Thursday’s vigil, three wreaths on easels were set up in line on the beach, each memorializing a crew member and the flight number, N13GZ. Out of respect for the families, the names were not made public at the vigil; and they have not been officially released.
On Friday morning, Hawaii Life Flight posted the names of two of three crew members on its Facebook page. They are flight medic Gabe Camacho, a father of three form Kailua on Oʻahu, and flight nurse Courtney Parry, a mother of three from Kīhei on Maui. The pilot’s name has not yet been released.
The crowd on the beach slowly grew as sunset drew near. The vigil began with a prayer by Hawai‘i Police Chaplain Makana Delovio. The silence was broken with music with songs Amazing Grace and Glory Hallelujah.
Many of the community members took a moment to stand in front of three wreaths dedicated to each of the fallen crew members. Marked only by the name of the fallen flight — N13GZ — and their titles.
Registered nurse Anne Broderson was a flight nurse over 10 years ago.
“I can’t put into words how it hit me,” Broderson said. “Thank you to the flight crew for showing yourselves to the community that is grieving alongside you. My heart is broken for you.”
Many employees from Kona Community Hospital, including Jennifer Filipiak and Tawnci Simpson, came out to show their support for the Life Flight crew.
“It’s a lot harder not being able to return the crew to their families,” Filipiak said. “It’s devastating.”
Simpson was a patient on a flight in September. She said the crew is like family to the Kona Community Hospital staff.
“If I was on another island I would’ve flown back for this,” Simpson said.
With the sky darkening, a microphone was passed around to allow the crew and community an opportunity to express their emotions.
Kona resident Leah Martin, her voice trembling from crying, publicly thanked the crew for all they do. For her, it was personal. Her son — when he was 3 years old needed — need to be medevaced to Honolulu for medical care on a Life Flight.
Martin came to Old Airport with her now 7-year-old son and other children, explaining to them: “[Life Flight] always showed up for us and we needed to show up for you.”
“I appreciate you from the bottom of my heart,” Martin said. “My condolences and prayers will continue for you guys.”
Firefighters and police officers also came out to show support.
“You mean the world to us,” one firefighter said. “On behalf of the fire department, we appreciate you so much for what you do.”
A community member said: “It takes a special person to get up every morning and put your life on the line. You are our heroes.”
Following the ceremony, everyone in attendance was invited to walk back up to a nearby pavilion and sign two paintings — one of the ocean and sky and the other a ying yang with one side a fish and the other a bird. One will hang in the Kona hangar and the other in Honolulu, Hawaii Life Flight’s main base.
Adam Pohlig, a registered flight nurse, wrote a message on the paintings.
“When you know people who are young that lost their lives it makes it so much harder,” said Pohlig, who knew the fallen crew members. “Life is so short and fleeting.”