Shortly before a Kodiak pilot was fatally injured when his plane crashed in Washington state last month, he texted his mother with worries about having enough fuel to complete the flight, according to a preliminary report released by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The pilot, Sean Hayes, had been traveling from Kodiak to Lake Havasu City, Arizona, when his plane went down just outside Port Angeles on Jan. 26. According to his family, he had done the same trip in his Cessna 170A many times.
The day his plane disappeared, Hayes departed at 10:00 a.m. from Ketchikan, where he had stopped to refuel. At 3:40 p.m., he texted his mother, telling her that his GPS showed he had one hour left of flight time until reaching his destination.
He thought the plane, which burned 6 to 10 gallons of fuel per hour, could make it, but a strong headwind slowed him down. The report said his plane could hold between 30 and 35 gallons of fuel.
At 4:15 p.m., Hayes said that his estimated time of arrival was fluctuating with the changing wind, turbulence and cloud avoidance.
At 4:37 p.m., Hayes sent a picture to his mother that showed a marine vessel towing a barge. He then sent out a mayday call at 4:38 p.m. when he was over the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Radar data at 4:38 p.m. showed that the plane was slowing down, and descending gradually from 1,200 feet to 400 feet. The last data point on the radar showed the plane was 2.9 nautical miles from the nearest land.
The report said that Hayes told his mother that he was out in the middle of the water and was “ditching by a boat that was towing a barge.”
The U.S. Coast Guard, along with other partner agencies — such as the U.S. Navy and the Canadian Air Force — built a search plan according to Hayes’ description of the area in his mayday call.
Rescue crews completed 22 different search patterns and covered 1,170 square miles over 23 hours of searching, finally calling off the effort at 4 p.m. the following day without finding him.