Another Baja Bummer 1000 Tragedy

TITLE 14–Aeronautics and Space
CHAPTER I–FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION, DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
SUBCHAPTER F–AIR TRAFFIC AND GENERAL OPERATING RULES
PART 91–GENERAL OPERATING AND FLIGHT RULES

§ 91.151 Fuel requirements for flight in VFR conditions.
(a) No person may begin a flight in an airplane under VFR conditions unless (considering wind and forecast weather conditions) there is enough fuel to fly to the first point of intended landing and, assuming normal cruising  speed—
(1) During the day, to fly after that for at least 30 minutes; or
(2) At night, to fly after that for at least 45 minutes.

Those are the Federal Aviation Agency regulations for flying a private aircraft. The regulations say that it is illegal to takeoff unless the pilot has first determined the aircraft has enough fuel to reach his intended destination, plus fly for another 30 minutes if it is daytime, or another 45 minutes if it is nighttime.



Charles Alfred Chambers

 Charles Alfred Chambers, a 58-year-old Realtor from Palos Verdes Estates, who is known as Carlos Fiesta on BajaNomads and his own website, went to watch the Baja 1000 last weekend. He flew down to San Juanico, Baja California along with two passengers, Russ Urban, 63, of Rancho Palos Verdes and Sean Kelly, 44, of Hermosa Beach. They are all dead now.
 
Sunday evening at 5:45PM, Chambers called the John Wayne Airport tower and reported an emergency, indicated a fuel problem, and said he would not make the airport. His Beechcraft Musketeer crash-landed in shallow water in the Back Bay of Newport, flipped over, and all three aboard were killed. Chambers’ destination was Torrance Airport.
 
Since Torrance Airport is not a legal airport of entry with customs, Chambers would have had to land at Brown Field in San Diego to clear customs. There are no radar traces of his flight from Brown Field to Torrance, which means he was on a VFR flight plan, and his transponder would not have been set to a discreet code to follow him.

The flight from Brown Field to Torrance would normally take 1:15 minutes in a Beechcraft Musketeer. The airplane cruises at about 110 – 115 miles per hour, and holds 60 gallons of fuel, enough to fly for over 6 hours. To be legal, since he would be landing at Torrance at night, Chambers should have taken off with no less than 2 hours of fuel on-board his plane — about 20 gallons. He needed to have 1:15 of fuel for the flight and another 45 minutes for legal reserves. He crashed about 30 minutes flight time short of his destination of Torrance. In short, it appears that Chambers took off from Brown Field with only 45 minutes of fuel on-board, when he should have had at least 2 hours of fuel for the intended flight.

The weather at the time of the crash was good. John Wayne Airport reported it was clear, with a temperature of 64 degrees, a dew-point of 42 degrees and light winds out of the West-Southwest at 9 knots. Due to the large temperature dewpoint spread, it is not likely that carburetor icing was a factor.

The FAA airmens registry reports that Chambers holds a private pilot certificate issued on October 26, 2004. He has no other airman ratings.

UPDATE:
An article in the Los Angeles Times reports that the airplane stopped in San Felipe on its way north and cleared customs in Calexico. This would add another 45 minutes to the flight time from the border to Torrance Airport. The total flight distance from San Felipe to Torrance is about 350 miles, still well within the range of the aircraft if the tanks were filled in San Felipe. “National Transportation Safety Board lead investigator Wayne Pollack said he found “minimal fuel” in the engine compartment, but stopped short of saying whether the plane had run out of fuel.”

UPDATE 11/23/2010
Fulano put together a chart of Chambers most probable route from Calexico to Torrance. It follows VFR airways and avoids the San Diego Class B airspace. On this route, he would have passed nearby two controlled airports with fuel: Ramona and McClellan-Palomar.

Click on chart to enlarge.
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