The Hawaiian health official who verified the authenticity of President Obama's birth certificate died in a small plane crash.
The plane, carrying a pilot and eight passengers, went down Wednesday in the water a half mile off the Hawaiian island of Molokai, the Maui Fire Department said. The lone fatality was Loretta Fuddy, who has served as state health director since January 2011. Tom Matsuda, the interim executive director of Hawaii's health insurance exchange, confirmed Fuddy's death.
Fuddy, 65, made national news in April 2011 when she verified the authenticity of certified copies of President Obama's birth certificate. Obama had requested the release to curb claims by so-called "birthers" that he was born in Kenya and not eligible to be president.
Makani Kai Air President Richard Schuman told Honolulu-based KITV that he spoke with the pilot of the single-engine turboprop Cessna Grand Caravan after the crash.
"What he reported is after takeoff ... there was catastrophic engine failure," Schuman said. "He did the best he can to bring the aircraft down safely and he got everybody out of the aircraft."
Schuman said the cause of the engine failure had not yet been determined. The National Transportation Safety Board was investigating the crash; NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said that based on the location of the crash it was unlikely the plane will be recovered.
"Our hearts are broken," Gov. Neil Abercrombie said in a statement. "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. Her knowledge was vast; her counsel and advice always given from her heart as much as from her storehouse of experience."
Matsuda, who worked with Fuddy to set up the state's Obamacare website, Hawaii Health Connector, called her death "a terrible loss" for the state.
"I worked closely with Director Fuddy on the Affordable Care Act and came to know and respect her as a passionate advocate for public health and a warm, caring human being," Matsuda said.
The plane went down about a half-mile northwest of Kalaupapa peninsula, which was home to a leper colony until 1969. A handful of patients still live there. The state health director by law remains mayor of part of the peninsula, and Fuddy was visiting the peninsula in that capacity, state Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo said.
Okubo said the department's deputy director, Keith Yamamoto, also had been booked on the flight.
Coast Guard Petty Officer Melissa McKenzie said a Coast Guard helicopter got three passengers out of the water while Maui fire crews picked up five people. One person swam ashore.
Contributing: Associated Press