Video footage from a US Coast Guard aircraft captured the drama of a single-engine airplane and its pilot splashing safely into the Pacific Ocean thanks to a parachute inside its fuselage.
The factory-new Cirrus SR22 was en route to Hawaii on Sunday afternoon on a ferry flight from the San Francisco area when it "ran out of fuel", the Coast Guard said in a press release.
Footage from the C-130 Hercules rescue plane, released on Monday, showed the aircraft deploying its airframe parachute at an estimated 1,800m above the sea.
Three-and-a-half minutes later, the Cirrus hit the water with a splash, and the unidentified pilot is seen climbing into a small life raft.
He was picked up about 30 minutes later by a passing cruise ship, about 400km off the Hawaiian island of Maui.
"The pilot was reported to be in good condition. The plane was last observed partially submerged," AFP reported the Coast Guard as saying.
The pilot had reported four hours earlier that he had about three hours of fuel left, and estimated he would have to ditch the plane about 370km from Maui.
That gave search-and-rescue teams valuable time to dispatch the Hercules and identify the Holland America cruise ship Veendam, sailing from California to Maui, as a likely rescue vessel.
Flight tracking website FlightAware.com indicated that the US-registered aircraft was flying a 3,895km route from Tracy airport near San Francisco to Kahului, on Maui.
A turbo-charged version of the Cirrus SR22 sells for US$725,000 (S$970,000).
Minnesota-based Cirrus says timely deployment of its airframe parachute system has saved 104 lives worldwide since the debut of the original SR20 model in the 1990s.
Similar airframe parachutes are available for Cessna 172 and 182 single-engine aircraft, but not as standard equipment. They can also be fitted to home-built planes.
When deployed, the parachute will bring a Cirrus down to earth at a rate of about 520m per minute.
Seatbelts with integrated airbags add an extra degree of safety.
This article was first published on Jan 28, 2015.
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