By Jeff King
The pilot of a single engine Cirrus SR-22 aircraft that ran out of fuel is safe after ditching his aircraft 253 miles northeast of Maui Sunday.
At approximately 4:44 p.m. the pilot was able to deploy the aircraft’s airframe parachute system and safely exit the aircraft into a life raft. Maui TV News first reported the incident Sunday afternoon. Read that original report here.
Incredible images have been made public by the Coast Guard. Video shows the actual moment when the plane’s engine stopped, which was immediately followed by the deployment of an airframe parachute that allowed the craft to gently descend to the ocean’s surface. The footage changes from black and white to color to infrared and captures the entire rescue. The Cirrus SR-22 is one of few small planes certified to carry and deploy the airframe parachute. Coast Guard video proves it works. The pilot seems to land on the water like a feather, after which he climbs out the door and enters a life raft.
Watchstanders at the Coast Guard Joint Rescue Coordination Center Honolulu identified the cruise ship Veendam, en route to Lahaina, Maui, and coordinated the pilot’s ditch near their location. The Veendam’s name might sound familiar. In 2008 while docked in Lahaina Roads, the crew brought more than 100 mattresses ashore to be donated to Maui homeless shelters.
At 5:21 p.m. Sunday, the crew of the Veendam rescued the pilot. The pilot was reported to be in good condition. The plane was last observed partially submerged.
Weather conditions at the time of the rescue were seas of 9 to 12 feet and winds of 25 to 28 mph.
The Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules airplane from Air Station Barbers Point assisted the pilot during the process of ditching his aircraft and maintained communications throughout the ditching process. The Hercules crew remained on scene until the pilot was safely aboard the Veendam. The C-130 left the area when other Coast Guard crews arrived by boat and helicopter. As a quirk of fate would have it, the C-130 was called to yet another incident where a small plane had ditched at sea between Kaua’i and O’ahu. Read that story here.
The flight originated in Tracy, California and was destined for Kahului Maui. According to Wikipedia, the Cirrus SR-22 has a range of 1,049 miles. The distance from Tracy, CA to Kahului is 2,389 miles. The half-million dollar plane may not be salvageable. Investigators will surely be curious how the pilot thought he’d be able to fly his plane the extra 1,340 miles with no fuel.
Sunday’s first rescue began at 12:30 p.m., when the pilot contacted the Hawaii National Guard and reported his aircraft had approximately three hours of fuel remaining and he would be ditching 230 miles north east of Maui.