State briefs for July 6

Lawsuit: Dolphin tour company tried to skirt rules regarding virus

HONOLULU — A Hawaii dolphin tour company discouraged workers from complying with COVID-19 safety laws, a former employee alleged in a lawsuit.

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Yumi Ishizuka said in the lawsuit the owner of Ocean Journeys, which operates Dolphins and You, sought to skirt lowered capacity limits on boat tours, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Monday.

Ishizuka said she was fired as human resources coordinator for Ocean Journeys as retaliation for urging compliance with social distancing and mask rules.

Owner Richard Holland didn’t immediately return a message from The Associated Press. Its website says the company operates tours under “And You Creations,” which Holland started “to share the life-changing experience of swimming with wild dolphins with Hawaii’s visitors.”

The website also said the company implemented COVID-19 safety protocols, including reduced boat capacity to allow for social distancing during tours, frequent sanitation, temperature checks of staff and masks when indoors.

According to the lawsuit, Holland sent an email to staff complaining about state restrictions on the number of people allowed on boats. At the time, the state had limited the occupancy on commercial, recreational boats to 25% of maximum occupancy.

“We need to take control of (the) matter and do whatever we have to do to make good common sense of things,” Holland wrote. “I honestly think we should not be cutting ourselves off at 25 (passengers), and we should fudge the numbers and go maybe even up to 40 minimum.”

He encouraged staff not to wear masks and wrote that those who showed up for an in-person meeting would be given “envelopes.” That email implied monetary reward for meeting in person without masks, said Andrew Stewart, an attorney for Ishizuka.

“A couple of your employees were sick, whether you believe in COVID or not,” she wrote to Holland. “Telling us not to wear masks even though it is mandated in the State of Hawaii is not acceptable as a business owner. You disregard what we think about what we believe in to prevent this from spreading among ourselves and to our loved ones.”

He fired her in an email, the newspaper reported.

Investigators to search ocean for cargo plane

HONOLULU — Federal investigators said they will search the ocean floor near Honolulu for a cargo plane that crashed into the Pacific last week in hopes of finding recorders that could hold clues about what caused the aircraft to go down.

Both pilots survived after their Boeing 737 crashed Friday as they were trying to return to the airport in Honolulu. The pilots had reported losing power in one engine and being concerned about the other engine also failing.

The National Transportation Safety Board said investigators planned to use sonar on Monday to survey the debris field where the plane sank so they can recover devices that record information from the plane and capture cockpit sounds. The so-called black boxes can provide vital clues about the cause of a crash.

The safety board said knowing the location, condition and depth of the wreckage will help it determine how to retrieve the records and whether to salvage the plane.

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The 46-year-old plane was operated by Rhoades Aviation as Transair Flight 810. It was scheduled to fly from Honolulu to Kahului, Hawaii, but went into the ocean several miles offshore, according to authorities. Both pilots, the only people on board, were seriously injured and were clinging to packages and the tail of the plane when they were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard, authorities said.

The safety board said it met Saturday with others who will be involved in the investigation, including representatives of the Federal Aviation Administration, Rhoades Aviation, Boeing, engine maker Pratt and Whitney and air traffic controllers.

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