LOS ANGELES: Video from a US Coast Guard aircraft released Monday captured the drama of a single-engine airplane and its pilot splashing safely onto the Pacific Ocean thanks to a parachute inside its fuselage.
The factory-new Cirrus SR22 was en route to Hawaii on Sunday afternoon on a ferry flight from the San Francisco area when it “ran out of fuel,” the Coast Guard said in a press release.
Video from the C-130 Hercules rescue plane showed the ill-starred aircraft deploy its airframe parachute — standard equipment on the five-seat aircraft that sells for $725,000 in its turbocharged version — an estimated 6,000 feet (1,800 meters) above the sea.
Three and a half minutes later, the Cirrus hit the water with a splash, and the unidentified pilot is seen climbing into a small life raft.
He was picked up about a half-hour later by a passing cruise ship, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) off the Hawaiian island of Maui.
“The pilot was reported to be in good condition. The plane was last observed partially submerged,” the Coast Guard said.
The pilot had reported four hours earlier that he had approximately three hours of fuel remaining, and estimated he would have to ditch 230 miles from Maui.
That gave search and rescue teams valuable time to dispatch the Hercules and identify the Holland America cruise ship Veendam, sailing from San Diego, California to Maui, as a likely rescue vessel.
Flight tracking website FlightAware.com indicated that the US-registered aircraft was flying a 2,420-mile route from Tracy airport near San Francisco to Kahului, on Maui.
Tracy is a frequently used departure point for small aircraft on ferry flights from the US mainland via Hawaii to East Asia and Australia.
A Cirrus SR22 can typically fly for 800 nautical miles (1,500 kilometers), but for transoceanic journeys it is fitted with extra fuel tanks in the cabin.
Minnesota-based Cirrus says timely deployment of its Cirrus Airframe Parachute System has saved 104 lives worldwide since the debut of the original SR20 model in the 1990s.
Similar airframe parachutes are available for Cessna 172 and 182 single-engine aircraft, but not as standard equipment. They can also be fitted to homebuilt planes.
When deployed, the parachute will bring a Cirrus down to Earth at a rate of about 1,700 feet per minute. Seatbelts with integrated airbags add an extra degree of safety.
The pilot and passenger of another Cirrus SR22 credited the parachute with saving their lives in October during a mid-air collision with a helicopter at Frederick, Maryland airport, northwest of Washington.
The three people in the Robinson R44 training helicopter died; the Cirrus occupants suffered minor injuries.
Cirrus spokesman Ben Kowalski told Flying magazine Monday that the manufacturer — in whose name the SR22 was registered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) — was in “detail gathering mode” after the Hawaii incident and assisting authorities in their investigation.
“First and foremost, we’re remarkably thankful and happy that everyone is okay, and for the work of the Coast Guard in the rescue,” he was quoted as saying on Flying’s website.
The video can be viewed at http://u.afp.com/zm2