HONOLULU - In the final moments of her life, Hawaii Health Director Loretta Fuddy clung to the hand of her deputy after a small plane taking them back to Honolulu crashed in the ocean off the island of Molokai.

Fuddy, who gained notoriety in 2011 for her role in making public the birth certificate of President Obama, was one of nine people onboard the flight that went down Wednesday. She was the only one who died.

In the water, Fuddy held hands with deputy director Keith Yamamoto as he tried to help her relax, said the Rev. Patrick Killilea, who consoled Yamamoto after the ordeal.

"He recounted how he said he helped Loretta into her life jacket and he held her hand for some time," the priest said. "They were all floating together and she let go and there was no response from her."

The crash occurred when the single engine of the 2002 Cessna Grand Caravan failed soon after it took off from Molokai and made its turn toward Honolulu, said Richard Schuman, owner of Makani Kai Air, operator of the plane.

Schuman said the pilot did his best to get the plane down safely and keep the passengers together in the waters off Molokai. Asked how they survived, he responded: "Will."

Three passengers were pulled from the water by a Coast Guard helicopter, and Maui fire crews picked up others. One person swam ashore.

Other details remained sketchy Thursday on how the 65-year-old Fuddy was killed and how the others survived.

Fuddy approved the release of the president's long-form birth certificate after he and his personal attorney wrote to her to make it public and relieve the state of the burden that came with repeated inquiries about the document.

Fuddy spent more than 30 years working in health and human services and had been health director since March 2011.