Thursday October 6, 2005
Marines aid Angels Camp pilot after forced landing
By Craig Koscho
Thursday, October 6, 2005 10:52 AM CDT

When Angels Camp resident Dennis Dooley was forced to land his small plane in a vineyard near Chowchilla last month, he was helped by a special band of guardian angels n a Marine air crew.

Dooley, 62, was flying his 1947 Navion from the Calaveras County Airport to San Diego on Sept. 19 when the engine quit after he switched from one fuel tank to another.

It’s not uncommon for a small airplane’s engine to falter in those circumstances, Dooley said, and they usually start up again.

On rare occasions the engine won’t re-start, and Dooley found himself faced with that uncommon occurrence.

Dooley could see Chowchilla off in the distance and hoped to glide there, all the time expecting the engine to restart.

When he realized that wasn’t going to happen, Dooley aimed for a dirt farm road through a vineyard.

“I put it down and I clipped the end post of one of the vine rows and sheared the outer third of my left wing off,” Dooley said.

When the aircraft finally came to a stop, Dooley said he was relatively unharmed “but my plane was totaled.”

Even though he had sent out an emergency signal, it might have taken crews some time to reach him given his remote location and the fact the wreckage was hidden among the vineyards.

Fortunately, a six-member aircrew with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352 was in the vicinity when Dooley’s call went out.

“They stayed overhead for about 45 minutes until the local police, firemen and all the other people could figure out how to get to me,” Dooley said.

Dooley went to a local hospital as a precaution but suffered no permanent injuries.

“I still have a sore back,” he said last week.

The Marine crew was based out of the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station between Los Angeles and San Diego.

Led by Capt. Constantinos Koutsoukos, the Marines homed in on Dooley’s signal and forwarded directions to emergency crews, according to a report by Lance Cpl. James B. Hoke on the Miramar station’s Web site.

“They really helped the Fresno (Air Traffic Control) locate the aircraft,” said Cheryl Jones, a liaison with the Federal Aviation Administration.

Just having the Marine aircraft overhead helped keep Dooley’s spirits up.

“It gave me confidence that everybody knew where I was,” he said.

Dooley is no stranger to military aircraft himself.

He began flying in the Navy in 1965 and completed 110 missions over Vietnam plus 205 carrier landings, a third of those at night.

“This is the worst I’ve gotten so far,” Dooley said of last month’s crash.

A former employee of the East Bay Municipal Utility District and former director for the Calaveras County Water District, Dooley now works for the California Rural Water Association.

After staying on the ground for several years, Dooley got back into flying in 1999, buying the Navion at that time.

Last month’s incident hasn’t discouraged his passion for the air.

Once he’s settled all the paper work with the FAA and his insurance company, Dooley will start looking for another plane.

Contact Craig Koscho at