PORT ANGELES — After flying 530 nautical miles from Ketchikan to Port Angeles, pilot Sean M. Hayes was nearing William R. Fairchild International Airport for fuel when he reportedly went down into the Strait of Juan de Fuca shortly after 4:30 p.m. Jan. 26.
The Federal Aviation Administration issued a statement on a determination of a presumed fatal accident that said the pilot issued a distress call heard by several pilots about 20 miles south of Victoria, B.C., releasing a tail number that is registered to Hayes.
“The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board will investigate,” the statement said.
“The NTSB will be in charge of the investigation and will provide additional updates.”
Hayes’ mother, Jo Murphy, identified the Kodiak resident Wednesday as the man who disappeared near the U.S.-Canadian boundary while flying a single-engine, four-seat 1949 Cessna 170A.
Family members told the Kodiak Mirror that Hayes was flying to Lake Havasu City, Ariz., a flight he had made many times.
A 13th District Coast Guard spokesman said the pilot had left Ketchikan mid-day Jan. 26 and was flying to Port Angeles.
Rite Bros. Aviation President Jeff Well said Wednesday that Hayes, who had more than 600 hours of flight time, was planning to refuel at Fairchild and did not know if he knew anyone in Port Angeles or was staying overnight.
It is 530 nautical miles from Ketchikan to Port Angeles and 910 nautical miles from Fairchild to Lake Havasu.
The total flight time is 13 hours, according to foreflight.com.
The plane travels at a speed of 105 mph.
Well said Hayes had an auxiliary fuel tank.
“It’s a tried-and-true aircraft,” he said.
Before communication was lost with Hayes, he described land formations he could see and ships that were in the area, the Coast Guard said in a press release.
Well said he received the pilot’s Mayday call at 4:40 p.m. and described Strait conditions at the time as “a frothy mess.”
“He said, ‘Mayday, Mayday, I’m going down in the water,” Well recalled.
“He said, ‘I’m going down behind a boat pulling a barge,’ and then, nothing else.”
The Coast Guard and other agencies began searching the Strait that evening. Air and sea assets were deployed by the U.S. Navy, Canadian military and Good Samaritan vessels.
The weather on scene Jan. 27 was reported to have 25 mph winds, seas 6 to 8 feet and water temperature of 46 degrees Fahrenheit.
The agencies conducted 22 search patterns over 1,170 square miles before halting their efforts that evening.
“We deeply appreciate the outpouring of love and support we’ve received from the community of Kodiak and from friends across the country,” said Murphy and Hayes’ stepfather, Rolan Ruoss, in an email.
“We want to especially thank Jeff Well in Port Angeles for responding to his Mayday call, the U.S. Coast Guard members, the Royal Canadian Air Force, and the local fishing fleet for their special efforts searching for Sean. Knowing that you were there for him makes this easier to bear.”
Forest Cobban, a close friend of Hayes, told the Mirror that Hayes’ “heart was always in that plane” and he “went out like he lived, doing what he loved to do.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].