Runaway plane found wrecked in California
December 27, 2001 Posted: 2:56 PM EST (1956 GMT)
PETALUMA, California (AP) -- Authorities Thursday morning found the wreckage of a small plane that broke from its moorings at a rural Sonoma County airstrip and took off without a pilot.
A California Highway Patrol plane spotted the mangled plane near the dam at Lake Berryessa in Napa County. There was no sign of fire and no one was hurt.
No one was sure how the Aeronca Champion, a small two-seat plane from the 1950s, took off by itself Wednesday afternoon from a small farm airstrip. Highway patrol officials said it flew about 20 miles before crashing.
The owner, whose name was not released, "was working on the engine, I guess, and it got away from him," Sonoma County sheriff's spokesman Phil Coughlin said.
The plane had less than 15 gallons of fuel, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
"Luckily, in Sonoma County there are a lot of wide-open areas," said sheriff's Lt. Rich Sweeting.
It's not the first time that model plane has gotten airborne with nobody at the controls. Experts said it has an old-fashioned starting system that requires the pilot to open the throttle and then climb out and crank the propeller to get the engine running.
In 1997, a Champion took off without a pilot in rural Ohio and flew for 90 minutes before crashing into a bean field.
In 1990, another Champion taxied in circles on the ground at a small Florida airport with the pilot hanging on to the door. He jumped free and the plane crashed into a soda machine.
In 1987, the same model got away from its pilot and flew by itself for 65 miles over rural New York before slamming into a tree.
I'd have paid money to watch the guy hanging onto the door while the plane drove in circles...