By Lila Fujimoto | The Maui News
A Civil Air Patrol plane that had been stationed at Kahului Airport for missions hasn’t been on Maui since March, leaving an empty hangar and concerns about providing adequate tsunami and hurricane warnings to remote areas of Maui County.
“There’s a lot of areas that have no other warning, no Civil Defense sirens,” said Lt Col Randal Leval, who had been among Civil Air Patrol pilots regularly flying the warning missions as tsunamis, hurricanes and other potential disasters approached. “There’s a lot of areas where people go fishing and camping down at the beach. Our pilots are familiar with the problem areas.
“We have always had a plane at Kahului Airport,” said Leval, who joined the Civil Air Patrol in 1975 and had been Kahului squadron commander for more than a decade. “When the plane goes in for maintenance, we always had a replacement airplane. We had seven mission pilots. Now there’s nobody.”
The changes have occurred as a result of what Col Jeff Wong, Commander of the Hawaii Wing of Civil Air Patrol, calls a “realignment” and some members describe as the retaliatory dismantling of a longtime fully functioning mission-ready unit, Maui Composite Squadron HI-057.
“We were unstoppable with doing good work, and they just destroyed it because of ego,” said Lt Rebecca Lauricella, a pilot and retired paramedic from California who joined the Kahului squadron four years ago. “Now you’ve got very, very talented people – pilots and people that have backgrounds and know how emergencies work and can work effectively in the Emergency Operations Center with other departments – all of these people are now in exile in a ghost squadron. It’s crazy.”
Wong said there weren’t enough active members in the Maui Composite Squadron, so it was combined with one in Kihei. “The squadron was realigned with another squadron because there was insufficient support to have two units on Maui, so the units were combined,” Wong said.
He said what some members have called a “ghost squadron” is actually a reserve squadron for inactive members. “If they choose not to join a unit and support a unit, they’re assigned to a unit which is called a reserve squadron, and those are for members who are not participating actively,” Wong said.
Maj Bobby Hill, a pilot who had been commander of the Maui Composite Squadron, said Wong removed members from the unit, in some cases after clashes with Maj Eduardo Zayas, who had been commander of the smaller 76th Kihei Squadron.
Zayas started the Kihei squadron as a cadet unit about five years ago and was appointed vice commander of the Hawaii Wing of CAP under Wong in late 2013.
When the Kahului squadron was disbanded, Zayas and the Kihei squadron took over the Kahului Airport building that Kahului squadron members had made improvements to over the years, donating money and time to upgrade the meeting and training space.
Zayas, 62, of Kihei was arraigned Tuesday in 2nd Circuit Court on a felony charge alleging he forged another pilot’s signature on a document to indicate Zayas was qualified to fly cadets on orientation flights – which requires a higher level of pilot certification than he has. The date on the forged flight evaluation form was Nov. 11, 2013, according to information filed in court.
Jack Dixon, a 30-year CAP member and Federal Aviation Administration-certified flight instructor, said he filed a Maui Police Department complaint, which led to the investigation, after Dixon saw his signature forged on a form to indicate Zayas was qualified to fly youths. With unpredictable gusty conditions around the island and Zayas’ medical and pilot history, “there’s no way he’s qualified to fly kids on Maui,” Dixon said.
A March 16 trial was set for Zayas, who is also known as Eduardo Zayas-Quinones. In court Tuesday, Zayas pleaded not guilty to second-degree forgery, which carries a penalty of up to five years in prison. The prosecution agreed to his continued release on supervision.
When contacted last month, both Zayas and Wong wouldn’t comment on the forgery allegations.
“I can’t comment on any investigations that are pending against any members in Civil Air Patrol,” Wong said.
Asked whether Zayas was still a Civil Air Patrol member, Wong said, “I can’t comment on that.”
When asked if he was still involved in the Civil Air Patrol, Zayas said, “Somewhat, yes.”
Asked about the forgery allegations, Zayas said, “I’m not going to make no comment.”
“Please consider that this is going to court and anything that’s put out there is going to harm,” Zayas said. “Maybe we should wait until the case finishes.”
Hill, who had been commander of Maui Composite Squadron from November 2013 until March, said he and Leval were the first to be removed from the unit before it was dismantled after members raised issues about operations under Zayas.
“He (Wong) took qualified pilots and threw them out, leaving more cadets than senior members,” Hill said. “Almost every single one was transferred involuntarily.”
Hill appealed his removal from command by Wong. In a November 25 letter to Hill, an independent review panel convened by the national organization to consider the appeal found that “more likely than not” the actions taken against Hill “were motivated by retaliation” after he filed complaints against Wong and Zayas. But because the squadron was deactivated, the panel said it wouldn’t be able to reinstate Hill as commander.
Wong disbanded the squadron in early August on the day Hurricane Iselle hit the islands, Hill said.
No Civil Air Patrol warning flights were done in Maui County in advance of the tropical storm, which caused up to $1 million in damage in Ulupalakua, Hill and others said.
“Instead of mobilizing people, they’re disbanding the unit as soon as we should have had crews in the air,” Hill said.
In addition to providing storm warnings to remote areas, the plane could have been used to transport supplies and personnel to other parts of the state, he said.
Wong said “aircraft and crews were available” for Hurricane Iselle.
As for why no warning flights were done for Iselle, “you would have to ask Maui County Civil Defense,” Wong said.
“From my recollection, I do not believe Maui County requested Civil Air Patrol assistance,” he said. “Any mission task, any request for missions in Maui County, have to come from the county itself.
“We don’t self-deploy for any mission.”
Wong said warning flights were done a couple of months later when Hurricane Ana passed south of the state in October.
“Maui County definitely did request services for Ana,” Wong said. “They were provided by air crews flying the routes requested by Maui County to warn the particular areas Maui County wanted covered where Civil Defense sirens are inoperable or out of the reach of people.”
Anna Foust, emergency management officer for Maui County Civil Defense, said she was aware that there is no Civil Air Patrol aircraft on Maui.
“I’m not certain if this is temporary or not,” she said. “I have been assured by the CAP at the state level that aircraft from Big Island, Oahu and possibly Kauai would cover evacuation warnings and assist with damage assessment if needed. Response time is a bit of a concern, as well as pilots not from here being familiar with particular areas of concern to us.
“This really underscores the need for coordination between us here in the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) to communicate clear and specific missions that are requested of the CAP through State Civil Defense/Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.”
Before the changes, Civil Air Patrol representatives on Maui used to attend briefings with other county and state officials when the Emergency Operations Center was activated at Maui County Civil Defense headquarters as tsunamis and hurricanes approached, Hill and Leval said.
They said that in the past, Civil Air Patrol pilots also carried out damage assessment flights after storms.
Foust said no Maui County Civil Defense funds go to CAP. The Maui County budget has had no line-item appropriation for the organization since the 2013 fiscal year.
The Hawaii Wing of Civil Air Patrol has received about $100,000 a year in state funding through a legislative appropriation and money from state Civil Defense. An agreement between the Hawaii wing and state Civil Defense calls for funds to be used toward the cost of flight operations, including warnings to beaches and coastline communities in the event of a tsunami or hurricane.
“There is coverage for Maui that’s provided by units on Oahu and the Big Island,” Wong said. “An island does not have to have an aircraft on it for it to be covered. Molokai and Lanai do not have an aircraft.”
But Leval and Hill say not having a plane and certified pilots on Maui means delays in response time, both because available pilots need to be located and must fly a greater distance.
“There’s a 160-nautical-mile gap between Oahu and Kona that there’s no specific plane to take care of,” Hill said.
“At this point in time and for the past nine months, Maui has had no coverage for what the state has given money for,” Leval said.
“The airplane went to Oahu for maintenance and has never been back since because there’s nobody left here to fly it,” Leval said. “He (Wong) transferred all of the members out of the squadron and disbanded our unit and gave our assets to Kihei.
“He’s systematically disassembled a fully functioning system in Hawaii and the community is suffering. If there was a tsunami today, God help us.”
Wong said the Civil Air Patrol Cessna 182 airplane that had been on Maui is being repaired because its engine was blown or cracked. He said he didn’t know when the plane, which is equipped with a siren and loudspeaker public address system, would return to Maui.
“The plan is to have an aircraft on each island,” he said. “Once the aircraft is repaired and back in service and once the pilots are requalified, yes, the aircraft will be there.
Asked when that would be, Wong said, “I do not have an idea.”
“The aircraft is still being repaired,” he said.
“Given the situation that engines, when they do blow, they can’t repair them here,” Wong said. “They have to order them from the Mainland. It’s a drawn-out process. There are standards that have to be met with the FAA and Air Force and Civil Air Patrol to make sure that aircraft are safe and airworthy.”
Hill, Leval and his older brother, Lt Col August Leval, were transferred last year to a squadron, mostly composed of cadets, at Maryknoll School on Oahu.
“For a member that has been involved with the organization for so many years, to have this happen leaves a real bad taste in everybody’s mouth,” said August Leval, who joined CAP as a cadet and helped organize the Maui Composite Squadron, which was chartered in 1974. He served as commander of the squadron in the past, and in 2012 he was recognized for his 50 years of membership in the organization.
“It’s wrong what they did to all the people that were members of the unit,” August Leval said. “Why it had to be this way, I don’t know.”