Thanks to the efforts of a Flexjet Learjet 31 crew, a former airline pilot and his three passengers were spared spending a cold February evening outdoors after their Bonanza A36’s engine quit over Mexico’s rugged Baja peninsula.
En route from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, to Van Nuys, Calif., in mid-afternoon early this year, Learjet pilot Adam Fine and copilot Steiner Krogstad picked up an ELT distress signal on 121.5.
“It’s company policy that we always have our number-two radio selected to 121.5,” Fine told AIN. “We were about to call Mazatlan Center to tell them about the ELT when [Mazatlan Center] asked us if we could try contacting a U.S.-registered airplane that had crashed. We made a broadcast on 121.5, and to our surprise we got a reply.”
David Miller, former US Airways pilot with more than 20,000 total flight hours and approximately 1,500 hours in the A36, had been switching from one tiptank to the other three hours earlier when the engine sputtered and resisted all attempts at restart. The forced landing occurred over the mountainous desolation of northern Baja, Mexico, about 250 miles south of the Mexico/California border. Miller brought the airplane down nearly unscathed on the only flat area available–a wide mesa approximately 2,500 feet long. After a 600-foot ground roll, the nosegear collapsed and brought the airplane to a stop several hundred feet from the edge of a sheer drop-off.
“I had actually contacted a Delta Air Lines airplane on the way down and gave them my position from my GPS,” Miller told AIN. “The Mexican authorities plotted it and told their helicopter pilot to forget the rescue because a crash in that area was not survivable.”
It wasn’t until Fine and Krogstad flew over the area at approximately 3 p.m. that the Mexican authorities became aware that Miller and his three passengers were alive and in need of rescue. After Fine relayed Miller’s coordinates to Mazatlan Center, he called the Flexjet dispatcher on the company phone to “have them start working on a rescue.” In addition, San Diego Flight Service overheard the exchange between the two aircraft on 121.5 and began coordinating a rescue effort with the U.S. Coast Guard.
In the end, a Mexican helicopter rescued Miller and his passengers about 90 minutes after sunset. They returned to the U.S. the next day in good physical condition.
“It’s important to have a procedure in place to relay emergency information like this,” Fine said. “At Flexjet, we have a dedicated safety and security department, and we crewmembers train yearly in many safety topics. I am proud to be part of a team that takes safety so seriously.”