THE Commonwealth Health Center says one of the seven people on the Star Marianas Air Cherokee that crashed early Monday morning is dead, five are in critical condition and one sustained minor injuries.
CHC incident commander John Tagabuel told reporters in a press briefing at 11 a.m. that the fatality, a female, died on the site. Her body was brought to the hospital’s morgue at 9:20 a.m.
In a separate interview, Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting Chief James V. Diaz said the crash "happened at 6:20 a.m.”
Tagabuel said CHC activated the command center at 7:15 a.m. and asked the U.S. Coast Guard for assistance at 8:14 a.m.
The other victims, including the pilot and the crew who were in critical condition, arrived at the hospital’s emergency room at 7:04. a.m.
Variety learned that the lone fatality was a Chinese female passenger seated next to the pilot, Capt. Jae Choi, who suffered a fractured skull and massive head trauma and remains in critical condition.
Tagabuel said they are still notifying the passengers' next of kin and cannot disclose their names yet.“We are also in constant communication with [the Coast Guard] and they are standing by should we need to medevac the patients,” he added.
The passenger who sustained minor wounds to his nose and left arm, Juanito Sibitara, told Variety that he could not remember what exactly went wrong but said they had just taken off at the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport when the plane crashed.
Variety found out from sources that before losing consciousness, the pilot was mumbling something about a fire in the fuel line. The female passenger seated next to Choi suffered burns.
Other sources said no one can say if the crash was due to a pilot error until the investigation is over. “He is one of the best pilots,” another source said.
More details to follow.