Plane ditches in ocean off Hawaii, pilot rescued

October 8, 2011 - 3:10 AM

HILO, Hawaii (AP) — A small plane ran out of fuel and ditched in the Pacific Ocean off Hawaii, but the pilot was rapidly rescued by Coast Guard crews who had flown alongside and coached him on crash landing in the choppy seas.

The 65-year-old man, who was not seriously injured, was flying solo from Monterrey, Calif., when he radioed authorities Friday afternoon that he was running low on fuel about 500 miles from his destination of Hilo, Hawaii, the Coast Guard said.

The Guard sent a plane to rendezvous with the two-engine Cessna and dispatched a ship and helicopter to be ready for a possible rescue, spokesman Lt. Gene Maestas told The Associated Press.

After meeting up with the plane over the Pacific, the Guard's HC-130 Hercules flew alongside for more than an hour, until the aircraft's fuel gave out and it ditched 13 miles off Hawaii.

"We were communicating to him the entire time," Maestas told The Associated Press. "The pilots were telling him how to make the airplane ready ... to lighten, tie things down, adjust the seat."

He was also urged to go in at a low angle to the water and touch down parallel to the waves — running at strong six feet — rather than absorbing their power by plowing into them head-first.

"We basically talked him down," Maestas said.

The pilot ditched his airplane about an hour before sundown, but Maestas didn't have details on the crash itself. The pilot climbed onto a wing where he was met by a Coast Guard swimmer, who aided as he was hoisted into a hovering helicopter.

"He was able to crawl out of cockpit and speak to the rescue swimmer; he didn't appear to have any significant injuries," Maestas said.

The Cessna sank in just a few minutes, he said.

"We feel very fortunate that we were able to save this man's life," Maestas said.

The man, whom the Coast Guard did not identify, was taken to a hospital but there was no further word on his condition.