For many years SCFC members have enjoyed renting N3504A. Student pilots completing their pilot training have rented the 172SP Skyhawk after completing their ‘checkride’ and existing pilots have done cross-country trips to destinations as far east as AirVenture in Oshkosh, WI and north through Canada to Alaska and back. Sadly, as of the end of June the well-loved Skyhawk made her last flight.
While some details of N3504A’s disappearance are now known with some degree of certainty, other details may never be known for sure. The following FAQ will try to address many of the questions around N3504A’s unscheduled departure from the Watsonville Airport (KWVI) on or around 9PM on June 26th.
Q: What happened?
A: See the ASIAS preliminary notice (link) for the most official details.
Q: That’s not a lot of information, what else is known?
A: The “final” location of the aircraft was determined from radar data by reliable sources (military) to be in the Pacific ocean 3.3 miles off the coast, directly west (270 heading) of KWVI. Very little else is known with absolute certainty, and speculation is not helpful to anyone, especially those that lost a loved one or just a well-loved aircraft.
Q: Was a SAR (Search and Rescue) operation performed?
A: Yes. The US Coast Guard (USCG) conducted a SAR operation but was unable to find any sign of wreckage at or around the GPS coordinates provided from radar track data.
Q: When was the aircraft first discovered missing?
A: The aircraft was discovered missing from its tie-down space on June 27th when a pilot arrived early to dispatch his noon reservation and did not find the aircraft where he had parked it the previous day. No reservation had been made for the aircraft in the scheduler for the intervening time block. The pilot immediately notified the club manager. The club manager then contacted all active club members that may have forgotten to create a reservation to determine when the aircraft would be back (by noon the aircraft was obviously overdue).
Q: Do pilots often fail to create and dispatch a reservation for a club aircraft?
A: Sometimes pilots forget to dispatch a reservation or “check-in” when they return. This is the first time a plane has been taken without an existing reservation in the scheduling system.
Q: Was the plane taken by a member of the flying club?
A: Yes, based on available information, we believe the pilot was a club member in good standing (dues paid for the month of June). This is conjecture, however — until local law enforcement is able to release their findings.
Q: Do you know the identity of the pilot?
A: To respect the privacy of the pilot’s family, SCFC defers a full answer to local law enforcement. But yes, all but one club member who had recent rental activity in N3504A was able to be contacted. We can connect those dots.
Q: Why has it taken so long to make this information “public”?
A: Many reasons. Government agencies take time to coordinate, and are not always immediately forthcoming with data, for one. Without that data it is irresponsible to conjecture. The aircraft was at first considered overdue under suspicious circumstances. At some point it was determined (not by SCFC) to be “stolen”. Conspiracy theorists will point and say “so-and-so is hiding something!” and, generally, the media will report whatever is the most sensational. The truth takes time.
Q: Who has “jurisdiction” over the investigation?
A: This is also a reason that it has taken “so long” to make more information public. Local law enforcement and the Watsonville Airport have been incredibly helpful and responsive, as has the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) and USCG. Early media reports incorrectly stated (assumed?) as “fact” that the FBI is involved (not to our knowledge?) — MEDIA: cite your sources, check your facts, please! SCFC still doesn’t know the answer to this question, and is nonetheless very grateful for the assistance from every agency helping to investigate this devastating event.
Q: Did the pilot intentionally crash in the ocean?
A: Lacking any wreckage or detailed radar trajectory data (which the military may or may not have in enough resolution, and may or may not eventually share under a FOIA request) we will never know. VFR flight into IMC / spatial disorientation is just as possible, especially over the water near sunset.
Q: Did the pilot make any radio calls?
A: The pilot made no radio calls at the time of departure, or at any time, according to archived recordings of the CTAF (common traffic advisory frequency) and ATC.
Q: I have a question that you haven’t answered in this FAQ, how can I best ask it?
A: Please do not call the club phone number with questions regarding N3504A (calls about getting checked out in a different aircraft are welcome, of course) — for obvious reasons. Please submit questions via email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Our heartfelt condolences go out to the family of the deceased.
Update as of 07/11/2019:
Q: Who does local law enforcement suspect took the aircraft?
A: Law Enforcement continues to investigate a missing person who was a member of the club in June: Mr. Hugo Mar
Q: Will SCFC conjecture as to the mental state of Mr. Hugo Mar?
Q: Was Mr. Mar “denied” making a reservation for N3054A on the night the aircraft went missing?
A: No. All members in good standing can make reservations utilizing the online scheduling system at any time. Mr. Mar could have, but did not, make a reservation for the aircraft on June 26th (i.e., he failed to follow club protocol for taking the aircraft). If Mr. Mar had attempted a reservation and was denied there would have been an audit trail linking that SCFC member and the disappearance of the aircraft. SCFC does not know where misinformation about being Mr. Mar being “denied” originated.
Q: Is it suspicious that the pilot taking the aircraft did not follow club protocol to make (and dispatch) a reservation, and also did not follow standard FAA protocol with respect to making identifying radio calls on the CTAF frequency?
A: Yes, it is very suspicious.