Orchestrates Plane Ditching In Pacific Ocean, Pilot Rescued
By Angela Henderson
November 17, 2011 - The Big Island of Hawaii lies in the
center of the vast Pacific Ocean more than 2,500 miles
from the nearest point of land. Yet despite its
remoteness, dozens of aircraft of all sizes make the
long flight each day without issue. For one pilot flying
from California in a small twin engine Cessna 310, this
was a routine well planned flight.
Traveling at an average 175.2 mph, Charles Brian
Mellor?s flight plan would have him reach the
picturesque black beaches of Hilo just shy of 13 hours.
During the flight, he had ample time to check and
recheck his calculations. In doing so he came to a
disturbing conclusion. He would not have the opportunity
to fly into paradise. He was going to run out of fuel
long before reaching the islands.
12:30 p.m. the command duty officer, at the 14th Coast
Guard District Joint Rescue Coordination Center, answers
the phone and receives a briefing of Mellor?s situation
from the Federal Aviation Administration in Honolulu.
Lt. Bridget Fitzgibbons learns that Mellor, a
65-year-old man is flying his Cessna from Monetary,
Calif. to Hilo, Hawaii, and is running out of fuel about
500 miles from land.
Fitzgibbons calls FAA Oakland for flight details that will help her make accurate decisions in planning Mellor?s rescue. When Mellor made his flight plan in Monterey he determined how much fuel he would need to travel to Hawaii.
Charles Brian Mellor, a 65-year old pilot ferrying a Cessna 310 aircraft from Monterey, Calif., to Hilo, Hawaii, flies his aircraft over the Pacific Ocean, waiting for the right time to ditch Oct. 7, 2011. A Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules airplane from Air Station Barbers Point assisted Mellor during the process of ditching his aircraft. The Hercules aircrew maintained communications with the pilot during the ditching process and vectored a Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter and the Coast Guard Cutter Kiska to the scene. The Dolphin aircrew deployed a rescue swimmer to pick up Mellor. The rescue swimmer hoisted him into the Dolphin and the aircrew transported him to Hilo Medical Center
The Cessna?s internal fuel tanks do not allow for trans-ocean flights, so he was allowed extra internal fuel bladders to complete the transit. Mellor stripped out the back seats of the aircraft and replaced them with the extra fuel tanks required to make the trip. Although tailwinds pushed Mellor and his plane 60 percent of the way, he encountered headwinds after crossing the point of no return. It was at this point his calculations indicated something was wrong. He had enough fuel for 14 hours but had been airborne for 13 of what should have been a 12 hour flight.
Fitzgibbons reaches out to Richard Roberts, District 14 response
management deputy branch chief, to explain the impending rescue.
Roberts, a former Coast Guard pilot, has vital experience and knowledge
to contribute to the rescue. Although rescue of Mellor was imminent, he
must first survive ditching his aircraft somewhere in the Pacific.
Roberts and Fitzgibbons begin to formulate a plan.
?The very first
thing that needed to happen was to ensure all response coordination
efforts are being managed to the fullest capacity,? said Roberts. ?Phone
calls were made to not only to Air Station Barbers Point, but U.S.
Pacific Command, the Navy, the nearest hospital and then to Coast Guard
Pacific Area Command Center in California and Coast Guard Headquarters.?
The plan was to
have a Coast Guard Air Station Barber?s Point HC-130 Hercules airplane
aircrew rendezvous with Mellor.
The aircrew would coach Mellor through the complex process for ditching
the Cessna. At Air Station Barbers Point, Hercules aircraft commander
Lt. Eric Majeska gathers the aircrew to determine the best course of
action. Majeska noted that the challenge facing them would test each
crewmember?s ability to function in a high stress situation. As the
aircraft commander, Majeska explained ?everything is depending on your
ability to remain calm and confident to help someone who is going to
have to make decisions that will determine their own fate.?
For the aircrew,
the confidence to help Mellor would come from their training and
experience. Majeska and his co-pilot, Lt. j.g. Bryan Weber, reached out
to other seasoned pilots to tap into decades of flying experience.
For Webber, a junior officer and pilot, gaining the knowledge of
others was crucial for developing the best course of action.
?His ability to
ditch this plane successfully would depend on all the knowledge we would
be able to lend him,? said Weber. Once Mellor entered the water there
would be little the Hercules aircrew could do. That is when the MH-65
Dolphin helicopter crew takes over the rescue plan. They would meet the
Cessna 310 at sea and deploy a rescue swimmer to recover Mellor after
the plane ditched. As both aircrews prepared to launch, Fitzgibbons was
busy developing the check list for the rescue plan.
information, Fitzgibbons realized that Mellor may have to ditch outside
the 80 mile range of the helicopter. If this occurred, a backup plan
would be necessary to rescue Mellor. Fitzgibbons made a call to the
commanding officer of the Coast Guard Cutter Kiska, a 110-foot patrol
boat stationed in Hilo. He was directed to get the cutter ready and
underway within the hour.
?Our biggest fear
at this time was Mellor may have to ditch his aircraft approximately 100
miles off the Big Island,? said Petty Officer 1st Class Chris Sena, a
watch stander working with Fitzgibbons.
Dolphin helicopters only have an approximate range of 80 miles.
For this reason the Kiska and crew might become necessary.
As the rescue
crews were preparing, Mellor?s plane caught a small tailwind and was
covering more ocean than previously anticipated. Sena and Fitzgibbons
coordinated a track line with the cutter to ensure they would intercept
the Cessna. By this time the
Hercules aircrew launched, and headed northwest to rendezvous with
Mellor. As the multiple Coast Guard assets took to the ocean and air or
stood by the radio, all the elements of the rescue began to come
together like a well-oiled machine. All with one goal; get to Cessna and
More than 150
miles off shore from Hawaii, the Hercules crew rendezvous with Mellor.
By this time the Dolphin helicopter crew had landed at the Hilo
International Airport for fuel and waited for their call to launch. The
Hercules crew established communications with Mellor and the pilots
began to talk him through the ditching sequence and recue.
?As soon as we
found him on a frequency, we introduced ourselves and told him we are
the Coast Guard and we are here to help him get through this,? said
Petty Officer 2nd Class Miguel Martinez, the radio man with the Hercules
crew. ?Immediately he seemed
relieved and we switched to a radio frequency with less traffic.?
instructed Mellor to secure anything that was loose in his aircraft and
began to review his two options for ditching the plane. Mellor?s options
would be a power-on ditch or a power-off ditch. During a power-on ditch
Mellor would have full control of the plane?s engine, Webber explained.
This allows the pilot to add power and make the airplane more
stable or add power to gain altitude to go up and then back down. A
power-off ditch is where the engine is already gone, whether it was
secured by the pilot or not.
In this situation, Mellor would have only one shot at landing the
plane in the water.
wanted to perform a power-off ditch,? said Weber. ?However, we stood by
our advice and said it would be best to conduct a power-on ditch.? The
reasoning behind the power-on recommendation lies in the Cessna?s twin
engine design according to Webber. It would be very unlikely for both
the engines to cut off at the same time during a power-off ditch.
This would make the plane very unstable and Mellor would be
forced to disable both engines manually, adding another task to the
already complex situation.
As Mellor debated
which ditch to perform, the cutter Kiska and crew staged approximately
40 miles northeast of the Big Island. The Dolphin helicopter crew
finished re-fueling and stood by for notification that Mellor was within
range. Sector Honolulu watch standers instructed the Dolphin rescue crew
to launch as Mellor crossed the 80-mile mark. With the guidance of air
traffic control personnel, the helicopter crew also rendezvoused with
At this point the
command center watch standers could only listening to the radio traffic
and wait for the air crews to execute the next phase of the mission.
From this point on it was up to Mellor to follow the instructions given
by the Coast Guard aircrew and ditch his aircraft into the rolling seas
off of Hawaii.
13 miles from the
Big Island the Hercules dropped to 1,000 feet and the Dolphin helicopter
crew came in behind Mellor and tailed him as he descended into the South
Pacific Ocean. ?Looking out, at first I was sure he had it, he was going
to be fine and we?re just out here for protocol,? said Petty Officer 3rd
Class Jeffery Moeschler, flight mechanic aboard the Dolphin helicopter.
?But as I?m watching him drop down to 400 feet and lower, he just kept
dropping. I just think it isn?t going to happen.?
In the front of
the dolphin, aircraft commander Lt. Matthew Matsuoka, watched as the
Cessna glided above the water. He calls for ?rescue check two? and
Moeschler and the rescue swimmer prepare for the impending rescue. They
watch as Mellor glided his Cessna along the tops of the rolling seas,
kicking up spray as the plane made several light brushes before dropping
the nose and skidding across the surface as the Cessna spun 180 degrees
in froth of turbid water before coming to a stop. Mellor kept the plane
vertical, but within moments it begins to sink. The Dolphin crew
approached as Mellor crawled out of the Cessna and onto the wing,
clutching a life raft.
Within seconds, the rescue swimmer, Petty Officer 2nd Class James Clyne, was lowered to the water. He swam to Mellor and guided him off the wing. Together, they swam to the rescue basket. Mellor was safely placed in a rescue basket and hoisted into the helicopter by Moeschler. Moments later the Cessna slipped beneath the surface and sank in more than 6,000 feet of water.
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