COURTESY U.S. COAST GUARD
A small plane with engine trouble that was ditched yesterday in the ocean northeast of Hilo was captured on video.
None hurt as plane ditched off Hilo coast
The pilot lands crippled aircraft on an ocean "runway" of Coast Guard flares
The pilot of a small plane with engine trouble successfully ditched the aircraft yesterday in the ocean northeast of Hilo on a "runway" lit by flares dropped by a Coast Guard C-130.
Two people in the plane were rescued by a nearby container ship and are reported to be uninjured, the Coast Guard said.
The drama began at about 11 a.m. when the pilot of a twin-engine Piper Seminole headed to Hilo reported losing an engine about 1,000 miles from where it took off in Santa Barbara, Calif.
A Navy P3 and a Coast Guard C-130 plane intercepted the Piper at about 4 p.m. The Coast Guard plane dropped floating flares to simulate a runway on the open ocean about 535 miles northeast of Hilo.
The flares aided the pilot to judge wind speed, direction and altitude, the Coast Guard said.
The "runway" was set up near the Virginius, a Maltese-flagged container ship that happened to be in the area.
Coast Guard pilot Lt. Brian Farmer, who assisted with the emergency landing, credited the 50-year-old pilot for being smart enough to shut the overheated engine after noticing the blistering paint "so she could restart it when it came time to ditch."
"She did one turn and luckily it started," Farmer said. Had the second engine not started, the pilot would have had to land at a higher speed, and the plane could have landed off-center and flipped, increasing the risks for a safe landing, Farmer said.
"She knew she was limited on time, she had to get the plane down, and she made that last turn and flew over the flares and made a safe landing. It was amazing. It was surreal to see it," Farmer said.
The plane sank after the landing, but the unidentified pilot and a male co-pilot were rescued from the water by a small boat crew from the Virginius, which is now headed to China.
"We did a half-mile orbit, crossed our fingers and watched her splash into the ocean," Farmer said. "To see them crawl out of the plane and wave their hands was absolutely amazing."
The Piper Seminole had life jackets but no raft on board, and was equipped with an emergency locating transmitter.
Farmer said the pilot "seemed very calm, very focused" and responded to everything he presented.
The Piper was one of two planes flying in tandem from California to Australia, Farmer said.
The plane's owner, Airflite PTY Ltd., based in Perth, Australia, had just purchased five Piper Seminoles in the United States and hired a ferry company to transport the planes to Australia from California.
Airflite specializes in aircraft sales, maintenance, product support and defense contracting, and does work in facilities across Australia.