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UPDATE: Glider pilot’s remains removed from Mauna Loa


A park ranger examines glider wreckage Sunday, Jan. 18 on Mauna Loa. (National Park Service photograph by John Anderson

A park ranger examines glider wreckage Sunday, Jan. 18 on Mauna Loa. (National Park Service photograph by John Anderson




On January 16, 2009, about 1300 Hawaii standard time, a Glaser-Dirks GD-400 motor-glider, N777WN, collided with mountainous terrain on the southwestern slope of Mauna Loa mountain, Hawaii. The airline transport pilot operated the motor-glider under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 91. The pilot was killed, and the motor-glider was destroyed. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan had been filed. The flight originated at Waimea-Kohala Airport, Kamuela, Hawaii, about 1000.

A member of the soaring association that the pilot belonged to stated that the pilot was attempting to set a record. The pilot’s glider had been towed to 12,300 feet mean sea level (msl) and released some time after 1000. Around 1245, the pilot radioed that he was in the primary wave, climbing at 1,000 feet per minute, and was at 28,000 feet (msl). He then stated that he was going to crossover to Mauna Loa. At 1644, when the pilot had not returned to Waimea-Kohala Airport at the designated time, the US Coast Guard was notified of an overdue aircraft.

On January 17th, approximately 1300, search aircraft identified debris at the 7,800-foot level, on the southwest face of Mauna Loa.


The remains of a glider pilot were located Sunday morning and removed from the slopes of Mauna Loa by park rangers.

County, state and federal authorities were alerted late Friday when a glider did not return to Waimea-Kohala Airport after a flight over the Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa summits. The wreckage was spotted Saturday afternoon.

Park officials have identified the victim of the glider crash as David Lyman Bigelow, 69, of Waimea.

By mid-morning Sunday,  wind gusts to 50 mph forced air operations to shut down after rangers lifted Bigelow off the mountain. 

Weather permitting, rescuers will return to crash site early Monday to continue survey and documentation and attempt to locate any additional wreckage. Park officials will work in conjunction with the National Transportation Safety Board.

Late Saturday afternoon, National Park Service rangers received word from county Fire Department officials that possible wreckage of the glider was spotted at the 9,800 foot elevation about three miles south of Red Hill Cabin.

At first light Sunday, rangers flew to the site in a contract helicopter and confirmed the wreckage was that of the missing glider. They also located human remains near the wreckage.

Located in park wilderness, the wreckage is strewn over a barren aa lava flow.  According to Chief Ranger Talmadge Magno, “This morning’s clear weather is to our advantage, but a high elevation search and rescue in a remote area is risky.”

In the air, pilots and rangers face the possibility of unpredictable wind gusts and obscured visibility. On the ground, rangers must make their way over sharp rocks and watch for signs of acute altitude sickness — headache, nausea, and fatigue.

The victim’s remains were transported to Hilo Medical Center. An autopsy is pending.

Other air accidents within the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Mauna Loa include:

* On Sept. 25, 1999, a fixed-wing aircraft on a scenic tour crashed on the northeast slope of Mauna Loa at about the 10,000 foot elevation; the pilot and all nine passengers were killed.

* On Sept. 9, 2003, a tour helicopter maneuvered a hard landing on the northeast slope of Mauna Loa at about the 8,500 foot elevation; the pilot and all six passengers survived.

Hawaii Glider Mountain Wave Flight 1 from Dave Bigelow posted a year ago on Vimeo.

A glider reported missing Friday, Jan. 16 was spotted from the air on the slopes of Mauna Loa during aerial search Saturday, Jan. 17. Although rescue crews have not yet reached the wreckage, they believe the pilot did not survive the crash.

According to friends and witnesses, Dave Bigelow was piloting his glider plane near Mauna Kea in an effort to set a high altitude record and was scheduled to land at Waimea-Kohala Airport about 3 p.m. Friday afternoon.

The glider was airborne mid-morning Friday, but Bigelow, 69, had not been heard from since after 2 p.m. Friday. The glider was reported missing to the Coast Guard several hours later.

A C-130 search plane crew from Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point joined the search at first light Saturday with county Fire Department, the Civil Air Partrol and volunteers.

Search crews reportedly found the wreckage shortly after 1 p.m. in a lava field near the 8,000- foot level on the side of Mauna Loa. 

FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are expected to investigate the crash.

Bigelow, a Waikii Ranch resident, was an experienced pilot having served as an Air Force fighter pilot, flying the F-102, and as a pilot for Continental Airlines and Aloha Airlines. 

Bigelow frequently flew in and out of Waimea airfield and last year was one of the first to protest the military plan for a C-17 cargo plane training flight path over the Big Island.

One Response to “UPDATE: Glider pilot’s remains removed from Mauna Loa”

  1. Mark Slovak says:

    Within a week, one trained power-glider pilot makes a spectacular landing of a jet in the Hudson River and saves 157 lives and another trained pilot-glider pilot loses his life while trying to set a high altitude record. One can only admire the
    skill of these daring pilots and wonder at the unfortunate circumstances that permitted one to live and one to perish.


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