King Air Ditches, Sick Pilot Survives
by Mal Gormley
05/25/00 06:54:37 PM U.S. EST
A very lucky pilot and sole occupant of a Beech King Air Super 200 survived a Pacific Ocean ditching on Wednesday afternoon after becoming ill while flying home to San Diego from Parker, Ariz. The accident occurred some 160 miles off the coast of San Diego. The pilot, Mark Armstrong, 40, of Valley Center, Calif., reported to controllers that he felt sick and was vomiting, then left the frequency. The twin turboprop continued west over the Pacific without communicating and was tracked by two U.S. Navy F-18 aircraft in the area on maneuvers. The King Air continued into a military flight training area.
After Armstrong had evidently passed out, the two F-18’s drew along side the airplane but could not see anyone aboard. Eventually, however, Armstrong was seen slumped over the controls. The Navy pilots, who were now getting low on fuel, eventually succeeded in getting the now startled Armstrong’s attention and gestured for him to turn back towards land, which he did. The two F-18s returned to Miramar Naval Air Station.
About ten minutes later, one of the airplane’s engines shut down, presumably from fuel exhaustion. According to the FSDO source, the airplane then became inverted and entered the clouds. Armstrong was successful in recovering, but the remaining engine then shut down and he was forced to ditch. Before the King Air sank, Armstrong had the presence of mind to grab a hand held emergency radio and some kind of flotation equipment. He spent the next 90 minutes in the water before being rescued by the USS Bunker, which was in the area en route to Hawaii.
Armstrong spent the night in the hospital for observation. He told rescuers that he thought he had become ill after accidentally exposing himself to an unspecified household chemical and eating lunch at a fast-food restaurant. Armstrong has been a pilot for about five years, and based his King Air at the Palomar airport in Carlsbad, California. He owns a California-based computer software company.