Going Down

I know I’ve written many times about how I prepare to survive landing an airplane someplace other than an airport but a few upcoming ferry flights had me going over my survival kit and researching better ideas or gear that might come in handy if I ever find myself up the creek. For those of you who are coming late to the party I’ll try and bring you up to speed. As an international ferry pilot I’m often flying questionably maintained aircraft thousands of miles to destinations all over the world and on really long trips I could potentially go down and find myself battling for survival in any one of a dozen different climates and or echo systems, such as; huge boreal forrest, arctic tundra, alpine/mountains, Greenland’s massive ice cap, freezing cold northern oceans, boiling hot southern oceans, triple canopy rain forrest, desert, swampland, savanna/grasslands, and down town Detroit. On my recent trip delivering a Cessna Grand Caravan from St. Paul, Minnesota USA to Singapore I flew over and had to be prepared to survive in….hmm, let’s see……all of them. Except Detroit. I don’t fly anywhere that place, too dangerous. So you might ask “Hey Kerry, how do you prepare for all those potential situations when you are flying a small plane with limited space and weight available to devote to survival equipment?”  And I might reply “That’s a good question.” I might have been tempted to answer ‘Very carefully” but that might give you all the impression that I have it all figured out but that isn’t the case. At all. Before I get into the nuts and bolts of my survival kit I’m going to give you a link to a story of two pilots that were forced to ditch in the ocean after engine problems forced them down short of Hawaii. The account is filled with mistakes that both the pilots and the Coast Guard made and it’s just pure luck that they didn’t turn into fish food.  I’ve talked personally to pilots who’ve ditched and read every account of ditching I can find to try and learn from their mistakes because I spend long hours looking down at the big blue and it doesn’t look like a friendly place at all.

Lessons Learned
A Long Wet Night

The following narrative was compiled from separate phone interviews with the pilot, Ray Clamback and the co-pilot, Dr. Shane Wiley, who graciously and very frankly shared their experience to benefit others, the pilots of the U.S. Coast Guard C-130s involved in this SAR case, email exchanges with Clamback’s partner Aminta Hennessy, official USCG reports, an article in the FAA Aviation News authored by U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Eric Hedaa, and news accounts of the incident. With the exception of the initial departure time, all times are Hawaii time.
Links to related information on this site are included.
UPDATE October 8, 2004: Ray survived two subsequent ditchings, the latest on October 5, 2004, enroute from Hawaii flying a Cessna 182. He is reported in the media to be considering retiring from ferrying aircraft.

Piper Archer III (file photo)Just minutes after the sun peeked over the horizon, Ray Clamback pushed the throttle forward and the shiny new single-engine Piper Archer III accelerated down the runway at Santa Barbara (California) Municipal Airport (KSBA), lifting off at 6:31 am on the morning of November 20, 1999. Turning to a course of 234 degrees and climbing slowly to 6,000 ft., Ray headed for DINTY intersection, his first checkpoint on the way to Hilo, Hawaii, 2060 nautical miles distant over the blue Pacific Ocean. The extra fuel on board put him right at the allowable 10% over gross weight and it was a slow climb to cruise altitude.

Ray was flying from the right seat, as is his habit on ferry flights. With over 10,000 hours instructing in light aircraft and over 150 ferry flights under his belt, at least 120 across this same route from the U.S. to Australia, the 62-year-old Aussie pilot noted he “is more comfortable flying from the right seat than from the left…and besides, that’s where the door is.” Accompanying him on this flight was 51-year-old instrument-rated private pilot Dr. Shane Wiley, back flying again after a long hiatus and looking forward to a flying adventure. He didn’t know it yet, but he was about to get a bit more adventure than he bargained for.

Ray had picked up the new Archer from the factory in Vero Beach, Florida, just three days earlier, putting 18 hours on the 180-horsepower, four-cylinder Lycoming 0-360 engine during the two-day solo cross-country. Another 2.1 hours were accumulated in a test flight to Los Angeles picking up Shane the day before, after the ferry tanks and temporary autopilot installations and first oil change were completed. The engine still hadn’t used a drop of oil.

Passing DINTY, Ray turned a few degrees right to 238 degrees which put him on the great circle track to FITES intersection, off the coast of Hilo. He had programmed the Garmin 430 (GPS) with the flight plan, now it was time to settle back and relax as the Archer droned toward Hilo at a steady 125 knots, about 140 kts. ground speed with a light tailwind. After a while Ray turned over piloting duties to Shane and nodded off.

Shane dutifully monitored the flight’s progress on the Garmin’s moving-map display, as the auto-pilot maintained heading and altitude, keeping a watchful eye on the engine instruments. Every ten minutes he’d log temperatures and oil pressure. “They didn’t vary by even the slightest amount,” Shane recalled.

Watch That Oil Pressure

Ten hours into the expected 17-hour flight Shane noticed the oil pressure had dropped, “though it was still in the green, it was quite a bit lower. I shook Ray awake and told him the pressure had dropped, and we were then both very wide awake as he looked at the gauges.” Shane remembers then that they “monitored the oil pressure for about fifteen or twenty minutes when the oil pressure dropped again and we knew then we really had a problem.” As Ray recalls it, they monitored the oil temperature and considered their options, “and within four to five minutes the pressure dropped again to the bottom of the green. At that point I didn’t wait, immediately called guard (emergency) frequency, 121.5 MHz, ‘anyone on guard, this is November four one four eight x-ray (the aircraft’s registration or “tail” number), I’ve got decreasing oil pressure and need assistance. I’d like the Coast Guard notified as soon as possible'” and then gave his position–longitude and latitude. “The frequency lit up with replies, which was very reassuring.” Ray also had an Iridium satellite phone with him, as back-up, but years of experience had taught him that a call on 121.5 MHz would likely do the job and that was far easier and quicker. Read More: A LONG WET NIGHT


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