Pilot crash lands in Sequoia backcountry


On Tuesday, Sept. 16, rangers from Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks participated in the successful rescue of a 67-year old man from San Jose who crash-landed his plane in a remote and rugged area of Sequoia National Park. The plane was reported missing when it failed to arrive at its destination as scheduled on Monday afternoon (September 15). The pilot was flying solo.

Sequoia National Park officials reported that the plane's emergency transmitter sounded late Monday, leading authorities to launch an air search in the Forgotten Canyon area of the park. The pilot's wife had also reported her husband missing. At approximately 9 a.m. on Tuesday morning, the Civil Air Patrol spotted the wreckage near Funston Lake and made visual contact with the pilot, who reportedly had facial trauma and broken ribs but otherwise escaped serious injury and was ambulatory.

The pilot departed Reid-Hillman Airport in San Jose about 10:45 a.m. Two reports have been received of his intended destination. He was headed either to Lone Pine or the Panamint Springs airstrip in Death Valley National Park and, most likely, did not have any other scheduled stops during the flight. Both destinations would require that the pilot navigate the Sierra crest, which includes Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the continental U.S. as well as numerous other towering peaks.

Funston Lake is in the southeast corner of the park near its boundary with Inyo National Forest. It is a trailless area about three miles south of the Rock Creek backcountry ranger station and the Pacific Crest Trail. It is unknown at this time if the ranger station was staffed or has been closed for the coming winter.

The park helicopter was used to insert a park medic and investigators at the crash site. The victim was stabilized and transported to the Ash Mountain helibase where he was transferred to a waiting SkyLife air ambulance and flown to an area hospital.

The plane reportedly was a single-engine 1996 Piper PA-28. According to Wikipedia, this is a light aircraft (2-seaters and 4-seaters) designed for flight training, air taxi, and personal use. It is built by Piper Aircraft. The airplanes are all-metal, unpressurized, single-engined, and piston-powered with low-mounted wings and tricycle landing gear. They all have a single door on the copilot side, which is entered by stepping on the wing.

The National Park Service is coordinating the investigation into the cause of the crash with the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration. The California Office of Emergency Services and Tulare County also assisted with this search and rescue operation.

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