2 pilots killed on Hawaii-bound plane from Santa Rosa reported fuel problems before crashing off Half Moon Bay

The pilot and co-pilot reported they knew they were not going to make it to shore due to a fuel line malfunction, the U.S. Coast Guard said.|

The pilot and co-pilot of a small twin-engine utility plane that departed Santa Rosa Saturday morning for Hawaii radioed authorities they were nearly out of fuel shortly before their aircraft crashed into the ocean off the San Mateo County coast, killing both men.

Authorities received a distress call from the Viking Air DHC-6-400 Twin Otter when it was about 70 nautical miles west of Pacifica — when the men realized they weren’t going to make it to shore, said U.S. Coast Guard Lt.j.g. Jillian Stuckey.

The pilot and co-pilot were the lone people aboard and reported their plane had only about 15 minutes of fuel left, Stuckey said. They were preparing to ditch into the water.

The men told authorities to look out for a yellow life raft which they had stored in their aircraft, according to the Coast Guard.

Around 2:30 p.m. a Coast Guard search crew spotted the plane in the Pacific Ocean about 40 nautical miles southwest of San Francisco.

It was upside down and no life raft was in sight.

A rescue swimmer looked into the plane and saw the pilot and co-pilot still strapped in.

The swimmer shook one of the men’s legs. He didn’t move, Stuckey said.

The men were pronounced dead at the scene, said National Transportation Safety Board spokesperson Sarah Taylor Sulick. Their names were not immediately available.

A call Sunday to the spokesperson for the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, which is in charge of releasing the identities of the victims, was not returned.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators are working to recover the plane and determine the cause of the crash.

The plane is registered to a trust managed by the Bank of Utah, according to FAA records.

The men took off in the Twin Otter about 8:20 a.m. Saturday from the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport on a flight path to Honolulu, Hawaii, according to preliminary flight data.

The STOL turboprop plane was originally designed to travel about 700 nautical miles. However, the aircraft had been refitted with an auxiliary fuel system to allow for longer flights, according to FAA records.

The plane flew southwest for about two hours before turning around about 10:40 a.m., according to tracking by Flightradar.

They were running low on fuel and later would report “a fuel transfer system malfunction,” according to Stuckey.

The pilots radioed that they were heading back to Santa Rosa. Eventually, they changed course and directed the plane to Half Moon Bay.

At 1:30 p.m., the Coast Guard received a report from the Oakland Air Route Traffic Control Center about the aircraft. The guard issued an urgent marine information broadcast asking for boaters southwest of the Farallon Islands to look for a potentially downed plane.

A Coast Guard helicopter crew was the first to spot the aircraft, which had gone into the water about 2:15 p.m. and had significant damage, Stuckey said.

In addition to the aircrew, the Coast Guard deployed two of its boats to assist with the search.

“We needed as many eyes as we could get to find this plane,” Stuckey said.

She said the plane’s owner had hired a salvage company to recover the aircraft.

You can reach Staff Writer Madison Smalstig at madison.smalstig@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @madi.smals.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.