Fellow Pilots Tried To Help Doomed Aviator

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When New Zealand pilot Kelvin Stark, 58, found himself alone above the Pacific Ocean last week, with fuel-flow problems in the new PAC 750XL single-engine skydiving plane he was ferrying to California, other pilots tried to help, the New Zealand Herald reported Monday. In the dark, overcast night, Stark reached out on 121.5 and found Capt. Steve Jacques, flying a United 767 from Honolulu to Denver, who talked with him for about three hours as Stark tried to troubleshoot the problem. "He had no co-pilot, but at a push of his microphone switch he was getting the support of many others," Jacques told the Herald.

Stark also heard from other cockpit crews who offered advice, and the Coast Guard responded with plans for a rescue operation, and coached him through the ditching procedures early in the morning. "He never seemed worried. There was no distress, he was upbeat and accepting the information," said Jacques. "He was not alone out there. A lot of people were trying to help." USCG Lt. Brust Roethler told the Herald that Stark faltered only once -- when an airline pilot asked if he had a message for his wife. "We then all realized this would not necessarily come off ... Mr. Stark choked up a little bit ... We all did," said Roethler. Stark made what appeared to be a gentle water landing about 310 miles southwest of Monterey, as the USCG C-130 flew nearby, but the fixed-gear airplane flipped over on its back. The Coast Guard crew dropped a liferaft, but Stark never emerged from the cockpit, and it was several hours before divers were able to reach the site. They were unable to retrieve the body, and the aircraft later sunk below the waves. A PAC spokesman told the Herald that the airplane probably didn't have any mechanical problem but just ran out of fuel. The NTSB is investigating.