A Hawaii state health official who gained national attention when she released a copy of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate in 2011 was killed in a plane crash off the island of Molokai, authorities said on Thursday.
Loretta Fuddy, director of the Hawaii Department of Health, died when a single-engine plane with nine people on board, operated by a small regional carrier, went down some 300 yards off Molokai’s Kalaupapa peninsula on Wednesday during an inter-island flight.
The pilot and seven other passengers survived the crash with various injuries, U.S. Coast Guard search and rescue controller Darin McCracken said, adding that one of the injured swam to shore.
A spokesman for the Hawaii Department of Health said Fuddy’s deputy, Keith Yamamoto, was among the passengers who survived the crash of the Cessna 208 Caravan.
“Our hearts are broken. Loretta was deeply loved and respected. She was selfless, utterly dedicated, and committed to her colleagues in the Department of Health and to the people of Hawaii,” Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie, who appointed Fuddy in 2011, said in a statement.
The flight was being operated by Makani Kai Air, which flies between Oahu and Molokai.
Makani Kai Air owner Richard Schuman told local KITV4 that the crash was caused by engine failure and that the pilot tried to bring the plane down safely and keep the passengers together after they were in the ocean. Schuman did not respond to calls from Reuters requesting comment.
A spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board said the agency was investigating the crash and would issue a preliminary report within 10 to 14 days but that the plane was probably not recoverable.
The Federal Aviation Administration was also conducting a probe of the incident, and a spokesman said its agents planned to speak with the pilot and some of the surviving passengers as early as Thursday.
Amid accusations by so-called “birthers,” who claimed that Obama was not born in the United States, Fuddy released to him copies of his original certificate of live birth in Hawaii.
She said that “in recognition of your status as president of the United States,” she was making an exception to her department’s policy of only releasing a computer-generated certified copy.
Obama then released a copy of that longer version of his birth certificate in response to the widely discredited claims he was not born in the United States. In doing so, he blasted “carnival barkers” who refused to let the issue go.
(Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis and Eric M. Johnson; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by John Stonestreet, Leslie Adler and Steve Orlofsky)