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Off Road Angels... my encounter with a Sierra Clubber

Posted 06-05-2008 at 02:34 PM by camo

By Heidi Tillinghast


Flying our little Glastar homebuilt airplane in Mexico is an adventure my husband, Steve, and I enjoy a few times a year. We had just spent a great long weekend exploring Bahia de Los Angeles with our friends Arlo and Ann who caravanned with us in their Glastar. Little did we know, the real adventure of our Baja flying weekend was about to begin on our flight home.
We took off from Bahia de Los Angeles at 11:45 AM, heading for San Felipe. One hour into the flight, the engine started running roughly. On the radio, Steve reported the engine sputters to our partners, Arlo and Ann who were about mile behind us. By the third violent sputter, it was clear that we were in trouble. Our plane was going down. Seconds later, the engine quit completely. Steve managed to get the engine going again. We were losing power and altitude as the engine coughed violently. Arlo reported flat ground directly below, our first bit of luck. Steve reported that he was going to attempt an emergency landing. I strapped down. He continued to get the plane to sputter to life several times as we circled to the ground in a steep decent keeping enough air going over the wings to avoid a stall that could drop us out of the sky. Upon Steve's instructions, my job was to turn the fuel completely off and pull all the breakers to prevent an explosion on impact. This felt like a long long time, but turned out to be only minutes.
Touch down. We bounced down a rocky dirt road avoiding boulders to a safe stop. Complete silence overtook the screaming in our ears. A few seconds of staring at each other, allowed our minds time to catch-up and realize that we made it. From separate directions, we saw two groups of men and vehicles racing toward the plane. As they approached, we saw soldiers with M-16s in hand. Another old truck was racing toward us from the fishing village about a mile away. No English was exchanged. The soldiers were excited and agitated. We motioned them to draw down their weapons. After a quick search of the contents of the plane, the local from the fishing village was able to calm them. This must have been the most excitement they had seen in a while. Steve turned the radio back on to report our safety to Arlo and Ann who were circling above.
Less than 3 minutes passed when two other vehicles showed up, a Nissan truck and a Toyota 4-runner with 3 Americans who were heading to San Felipe. Our emergency landing was just a few hundred yards from a military check point off the dirt road that leads from LA Bay to San Felipe. Three American angels sprang from their vehicles and swooped into action helping us tie down the plane, Erik "CAMO" Linker, Rich Klein, and Bob Roggy. We realized that we had a ride into San Felipe. This was no small deal. We were in the middle of nowhere, 60 miles from San Felipe. These three amazing men immediately gave up any plans they had for the day and took us under their wings. Brainstorming our next move brought questions- leave the plane?? Someone stay behind with the plane??. Take valuables?? What about our expensive avionics?? Will anything be left when we return? The unsettling decision was to temporarily abandon the plane and hope for the best.
Camo, Bob and Rich of the Pirate 4x4 race team, our rescuers, as it turned out, had won first and second place in the Baja 1000 only three days before. They were rugged, strong, determined men built for the rough country we were in. I squeezed into the back of Camo and Rich's 4WD, and there was a seat in Bob's 4runner for Steve. The guys were equipped with Satellite phones and had two way radios between the vehicles. We said goodbye to our little plane and were off to San Felipe. The road to San Felipe was not fit for anything but a 4WD. Less than a mile up the road, the terrain became treacherous and we could see how lucky we were to have conked out where we did. Bounding over the rocky rough dirt road to San Felipe was enlightening as we heard fabulous stories about off road racers and the experience these men have had in their wild and crazy lives. It was impossible not to fall deeply in love with these men as their stories unfolded and we got to know our rescuers. Clearly, each of them embodies the true concept of living life to its fullest.
Eighteen miles later we hit pavement in a village called Puertocitos. We were about 30 miles from San Felipe. Ten miles further down the road, Bob's 4Runner broke down. The guys strapped the 4runner to the Nissan truck and we dragged the 4Runner into San Felipe. On the SAT phone, Camo called a friend in Imperial Beach to bring a trailer down for the 4Runner. I was worried; they just saw it as another little challenge. The last sad mishap before stopping at dusk in San Felipe was hitting and killing a dog that ran into the road. By the time we reached Pete's Camp in San Felipe I was feeling numb. The next three hours were filled with talk about how to get the plane out of Mexico. Our new friends and rescue team were eager to participate in the adventure of an airplane rescue! Steve and I couldn't believe how completely lucky we were.
We finally got a hold of Arlo and Ann by SAT phone. They had a busy and eventful afternoon in our behalf. They had landed in San Felipe, reported our emergency landing, and learned about all the red tape we were in for. Arlo had arranged for tools and our wing folding strut poles to be sent down with a Baja Bush pilot the next morning. There was no way to transport the plane without these tools. Our rescue team was amazing on both sides of the border.
The Baja 1000 racers pulled us into the fold of the Pirate 4x4 Racing Team. Steve and I were not sure what was lying ahead of us. It was clear though, that this sort of crazy and very adventurous group of guys were joining up with us and ready for " Pirate 4x4 Plane Rescue Baja 2007." While waiting for their friend from Imperial Beach to arrive we planned, ate, drank, laughed and even danced. God, did it feel good to be alive!!! By about 11:30 PM Jody Everding and his friend Wayne arrived with a flatbed trailer that was slated to rescue the 4-runner. Camo had other plans! He solicited this group, now 7 strong, including Steve and me to have a plane rescue adventure mission Pirate 4x4 style. Everyone was game! By 1:30 AM we were all exhausted and ready for sleep. As it turned out, Wayne owned a space at a trailer park a few kilometers up the road. We were off to rest. These unbelievable people gave Steve and me a bed for what remained of the night. The others just sacked out on the ground or in the other trailers. Camo, who was camped out on the floor of the trailer with us was completely amped out. Every 10 minutes or so, as we faded to sleep, he had a new question about the plane. "How much gas is in that little plane? Can we flex the landing gear?...." Several times that night, I woke wondering if this whole experience was a very strange dream.
We were up early the next morning to make arrangements at the airport. We met with the FAA representative, Daniel Padilla, and Commandant at the San Felipe airport, Martha Lopez. The regulations were laid out for us:
1. The plane must be inspected by a Mexican airplane mechanic.
2. If the plane is transported, it must be transported by Mexicans under the supervision of Daniel Padilla.
3. A ferry permit must be obtained from Mexico City before the plane could be transported.
Daniel Padilla arranged for a mechanic from Mexicali to meet with us and go over procedures. After a long discussion, Steve, Camo, and I convinced the Commandant Martha Lopez that it would be difficult to impossible for the plane to be transported by anyone other than our "Pirate 4x4 Baja Plane Rescue Team." The plane was in a field off of a very rough and dangerous dirt road. She reluctantly agreed, provided that the
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  1. Old Comment
    camo's Avatar
    PART 2

    rescue was supervised by Daniel Padilla and the mechanic. A very long day was ahead.
    We had to wait for the folding strut poles. Our rescue team north of the border had arranged for the folding strut polls to be delivered that morning from Gillespie Field in San Diego. Poles, tie down straps and some cash was delivered at 10:00 A.M., and we were ready to roll.
    Our rescue team headed back to the plane with cases of Coke for the military guards and fisherman. Over the 30 miles of rough road, we wondered what would be left of the plane. Past horror stories of theft and destruction to abandoned vehicles in Mexico, raced through our minds. Two hours later, seeing our plane untouched seemed like a miracle. Steve and I gave instructions about how to prepare the plane for transport. The ten of us worked for hours, draining fuel, removing the tail, preparing the trailer, hoisting the plane onto the trailer, folding the wings, and finally securing the plane and tail to the trailer. The "Pirate 4x4 Team" was brilliant in figuring out how to jury-rig the trailer to accommodate the landing gear that spanned wider than the width of the trailer. They used the two metal ramps to span across the trailer to support the main gear legs. Team work, cooperation and creativity were imperative to make this work. By dusk we were ready to roll.
    We could not have hoped for a better driver. Jody Everding just happens to be a professional off road "rock crawler." I hadn't a clue what that meant, but it was a perfect description for what the job took. The eighteen miles of rough, steep, and questionable dirt was barely passable in some parts. We averaged 4 miles an hour from where we landed to the pavement in Puertocitos. We had to stop several times to check the plane, retie it down, and scout the terrain. Did I mention that Jody had a broken leg? The care, concentration, and sacrifices that were taken to transport our plane, without a scratch, was nothing short of extraordinary. We reached the pavement by 11:00 P.M. Another 1 1/2 hours of careful travel got the plane safely to San Felipe Airport. After some serious celebration, we stole a bit of sleep at the trailer park.
    Thanksgiving morning brought a few more challenges called "Red Tape." We had to wait for the okay from Mexico City to transport the plane out of the country, as well as pay the mechanic, which is another story in itself. While waiting, we had the opportunity to meet some of our rescue team's wives. Getting acquainted over breakfast, gave Steve and I a deep understanding of our astonishing "Pirate 4x4 Rescue Team." The generosity, compassion, and humanity of our team extended to their amazing wives who had come down to meet them at San Felipe for a Thanksgiving celebration. They gave up their holiday and encouraged their men to see us safely back into the U.S. with our plane. Jody's stamina and drive to cross the finish line kept us all going. Just before midnight, after a last day of exhausting effort, we pulled into our driveway in Vista, CA, with the plane safely on the trailer to be welcomed home by our family and friends.
    Wow, what an adventure. This experience is not one I would ever want to repeat; however, there was not a minute of it that I would have missed. Getting to know the Pirate 4x4 team in such an extraordinary way has changed my perspective on the world.
    Posted 06-05-2008 at 02:34 PM by camo camo is offline
  2. Old Comment
    That was a cool story! I read that wherever it was posted before. My wife keeps trying to get me to go to Mexico, but I'm scared of bandits and border agents...

    Posted 06-05-2008 at 02:42 PM by tacoma73 tacoma73 is offline
  3. Old Comment
    comeonstart's Avatar
    Awesome, any pictures of all of this?
    Posted 06-05-2008 at 07:31 PM by comeonstart comeonstart is online now
  4. Old Comment
    Roxywheels's Avatar
    You didn't write this blog!! This is cheating!!
    Posted 06-05-2008 at 10:14 PM by Roxywheels Roxywheels is offline
  5. Old Comment
    Sweet! That was a good read. Those are lucky people.
    Posted 06-06-2008 at 07:36 AM by ElLizard ElLizard is offline
  6. Old Comment
    Grumpy_old_fart's Avatar
    Its good to see that there are still people in the world that care...

    glad everyone made it home.
    Posted 06-06-2008 at 06:34 PM by Grumpy_old_fart Grumpy_old_fart is offline
  7. Old Comment
    Urban Wheeler's Avatar
    You're in the Sierra Club?? You traitor!

    Posted 06-07-2008 at 06:19 AM by Urban Wheeler Urban Wheeler is offline
  8. Old Comment
    Richard's Avatar
    pretty amazing work you guys did
    Posted 08-19-2008 at 07:52 PM by Richard Richard is offline
  9. Old Comment
    why is the background pink?
    Posted 03-25-2009 at 12:45 PM by Pt_Ranger_V8 Pt_Ranger_V8 is offline
  10. Old Comment
    Alpine4x4's Avatar
    Great story!
    Posted 03-25-2009 at 01:42 PM by Alpine4x4 Alpine4x4 is offline
  11. Old Comment
    ItsaCJ6's Avatar
    Posted 08-25-2009 at 07:22 PM by ItsaCJ6 ItsaCJ6 is offline
  12. Old Comment
    Haha ! so!!!

    Link: http//
    Posted 09-02-2009 at 05:16 PM by google2008a google2008a is offline
  13. Old Comment
    Posted 07-06-2010 at 12:27 AM by russell31bryan russell31bryan is offline
    Updated 07-06-2010 at 12:28 AM by russell31bryan
  14. Old Comment
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    Posted 08-22-2010 at 08:35 PM by steveframe steveframe is offline
  15. Old Comment
    this good story... it would be better if put some pics on your blogs... i having a hard time finding a cheap Mirrors - Side View for my truck... i hope i can find one this week...
    Posted 02-27-2011 at 04:57 PM by amandrew325 amandrew325 is offline
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