2017-07-13 / Front Page

Ultralight pilot dies after emergency ocean landing

Small craft lost altitude and fell into the sea
By Sylvie Belmond

Watson Watson William “Bill” Watson, a 56-year-old husband and father of one from Agoura Hills, died last weekend after the ultralight aircraft in which he was flying made an emergency landing into the Pacific Ocean near Mugu Rock.

Watson was one of two men aboard the light sports craft when it began losing altitude and fell into the sea around 4:45 p.m. Sat., July 8. They were flying with a group of three aircraft off Point Mugu, parallel to the coast, when they started losing power for unknown reasons, Watson’s brother, Gary Watson of Thousand Oaks, told The Acorn.

Surviving pilot Keith DiNicola, who was at the helm of the craft when the engine trouble began, described the chain of events.

“ We were flying south and I noticed that there seemed to be a small skip in the engine, but nothing violent,” DiNicola said.

The men tried to gain altitude for safety and made an attempt to turn back and reach the other side of Point Mugu.

Realizing the aircraft wasn’t going to make it, the pilots looked to the Pacific Coast Highway and nearby beaches for possible emergency landing sites, but all areas were crowded with people and unsafe to land.

Watson, who was more experienced, took control of the craft for the imminent emergency water landing.

“He was calm and professional and took command of the situation and did everything by the textbook,” Gary Watson said. The aircraft landed about 500 feet from the coast.

“There was no problem with the impact. Both of them got out of the plane, they were talking to each other. At first they tried to stay with the aircraft, but then they started swimming to shore,” Gary Watson said.

“I didn’t expect anything bad to happen from that point,” DiNicola said. Bill Watson appeared okay at first, although swimming slowly, the fellow pilot said.

As the two neared the rocks, DiNicola looked back and saw Watson treading water. “I asked him if he was all right, but Bill didn’t respond.”

Two bystanders helped retrieve Watson from the water and gave him CPR while waiting for paramedics to arrive, but he was unconscious and unresponsive.

Watson was taken to St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Oxnard, where he was pronounced dead.

“It takes my breath away. Bill touched everybody and he was an outstanding man. He was a great pilot, I learned a lot from him,” said DiNicola, who sustained minor injuries when his body struck the rocks.

A computer engineer and FAA-certified Light Sport flight instructor, Watson was vice president of Sky Knights Flight Club and president of the Ventura County Ultralight Aircraft Society based at Camarillo Airport.

“He was an awesome individual. He always provided service to others. Flying was his passion. He was very involved in promoting aviation, and he had a great sense of humor,” DiNicola said.

Gary Watson said his brother loved to teach and introduce other people to the sport.

“Ultralights are very safe generally, but this is just a very unlucky set of circumstances where he lost power in a very treacherous part of the shoreline,” he said.

“He did what he wanted to do, flying almost 40 years. This was his passion. He learned to fly small airplanes when he was 18 and went on to fly aerobatic aircraft, parachuting, and then he got into ultralights and powered parachutes and light sport aircraft.”

Watson said his brother wouldn’t have wanted people to become fearful of flying because of the incident.

The accident remains under investigation by the Federal Aviation Association and the National Transportation Safety Board. The county medical examiner’s office said the exact cause of death for Watson has yet to be determined.

Hector Gonzalez contributed to this article.

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