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Pilot delivering plane to Australia ditches off Hilo

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  • AP
    In this image made from video made available by the U.S. Coast Guard

Strong headwinds may have caused a 65-year-old pilot to use up his fuel Friday, forcing him to ditch his small plane in the ocean about 13 miles northeast of Hawaii island.

The pilot was delivering the twin-engine Cessna 310 to Australia from California, with a planned stop in Hilo, said Pablo Bassabe, vice president of logistics for American King Air Services, a Delaware-based company to which the plane was registered. Police identified him as Charles Brian Mellor of Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain.

"It was a ferry flight. That is what our company does," said Bassabe, adding that the incident happened along a flight path the company has taken about a dozen times this year with different aircraft.

He said it was premature to speculate on what happened on the flight, but at the same time acknowledged it is possible that strong winds caused the plane to use up its fuel.

"I know for a fact there was no mechanical malfunction. Apparently some strong headwinds, that probably just did not help out on the situation," he said. "The long distance flying that we do, a very small variation on the wind can make a big difference."

He said the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.

"We’re going to let the investigation bring us up to light what exactly transpired," he said.

It was not clear yesterday whether the company would try to salvage the craft, a Cessna 310R1303 made in 1978, according to FAA records.

"We recovered the most important and precious cargo, which was the pilot," he said. "We have discussed with him briefly what happened."


» See video of the Coast Guard rescuing the pilot

He said the pilot has been flying with the company for several years and is "extremely" experienced.

The Coast Guard said a helicopter took the man to Hilo Medical Center with no significant injuries.

The pilot was the sole occupant of the plane, which took off from Monterey, Calif., officials said. He informed the Federal Aviation Administration that he did not think he had enough fuel to complete the journey, and the FAA alerted the Coast Guard at 12:30 p.m. The pilot estimated he would run out of fuel 100 miles east of Hilo. The Coast Guard dispatched a C-130 Hercules aircraft from Air Station Barbers Point to find the plane, and a MH-65 Dolphin helicopter and the cutter Kiska were also dispatched to the scene.

The pilot ditched his plane at 5:23 p.m. and it sank 14 minutes later, the Coast Guard said. The pilot was able to climb out onto the plane’s wing before it sank and was hoisted into the helicopter.

According to, an airplane-tracking website, the plane left Monterey Peninsula at 4:42 a.m. Hawaii time Friday and flew for 12 hours and 38 minutes. Its scheduled departure time was 3 a.m. Hawaii time Friday with a scheduled arrival time in Hilo of 1:31 p.m., for a 10-hour, 31-minute flight.

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