Pilot’s Log: Flying Samaritan’s Trip to Mexico

Wonder what a flight to Mexico with the Flying Samaritan’s is like?

Thursday, April 10th
There are four planes scheduled, and the four pilots email, text and call each other during the day to plan and schedule the trip, and to coordinate picking up passengers pretty much all over California. There are reports that the usual runway at Los Pinos is closed for repairs because of a heavy rain so we all agree to stay at Tijuana before heading on down into Baja together.

I contact my passengers and finalize the list. I file the border crossing passenger manifest list (eAPIS) with US CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) for both the outgoing and incoming trip back, and also file two flight plans with the FAA.

Friday, April 11th
8:15 am
I arrive at the airport and pre-flight the plane. Typically there are passengers at my home airport, but today my first pickup is in Tracy, CA.

Preflight in the Hangar
Preflight in the Hangar

9:30 am
I pick up two passengers, both nurses, in Tracy. An additional nurse will fly home with me, but she drove down with someone to spend an extra day cleaning and organizing the clinic. I fuel up in Tracy.

12:00 pm
I overfly Los Angeles Class B airspace and we watch all the jets flying into LAX directly below us. The controllers are very helpful and direct me straight through San Diego airspace and across the border. There, Tijuana airport is just a few miles ahead and Tijuna tower, with good English but a heavy accent, directs me around the airport and then clears me to land.  I land long on the runway so I can turn off at the end into the small plane area.

12:00 pm

Tijuana Inspector
Tijuana Inspector

Mexico is still pretty messed up in terms of efficiently doing anything, at least at the airport. I don’t speak Spanish, so I have to resort to standing there looking bewildered as I am directed from desk-to-desk, office-to-office, paying pesos and dollars as I go, until I am finally free to go. Forms and flight plans are filled out with three or four carbon copies. A multi-entry permit is typed into a computer in Word format (no database that I can see), printed out, and stamped multiple times in a very official manner. They love their stamps, and I have to admit standing there bored I would have loved to (Kabam!) stamp a few documents.

1:30 pm

Steve's Bonanza, 9:00 low
Steve’s Bonanza, 9:00 low

All pilots have now paid their money and have filed a bunch of flight plans (for example, you also have to file a flight plan for the flight you already did entering the country). We all taxi out but the tower informs one of us, Joel, that the tower does not have his flight plan he must not taxi any further. Oh oh. The last time this happened the pilot had to go back and take the flight plan from Office A to Office B. They apparently can’t do that for you. However the tower then said they found the flight plan, and we were cleared to take off, one by one.

The flight down to San Quintin is beautiful, in a Baja sort of way. We pass Ensenada where the coastal mountains wring out enough moisture for trees and forests. They even have canopy tours there. We pass over areas famous for wine, famous for surf, and famous for being barren and empty.  After 45 minutes we arrive at San Quintin famous for being the agricultural center of Baja.  Mainly tomatoes these days, but the infamous marijuana filled twin-engine plane that crashed and slid into a lake in Yosemite (Cliff Hanger the movie was loosely based on this crash) took off from the beaches of San Quintin. The authorities decided to wait until spring to retrieve the plane, but word got out and climbers from Yosemite hiked in with chain saws and diving gear and managed to retrieve much of the pot.

2:30 pmIMG_0858 (Medium)
We received reports that the runway we use next to the clinic is indeed undergoing repairs so we land at another runway that we had checked out on a previous trip. It was dirt, but very long and flat and in great shape, with the required contingent of soldiers. All Baja strips must have security, otherwise they lose their permit and the government will trench the runway to close it. I’ve heard the US government had a hand in that policy.  It cuts down on the twin engine planes full of pot.

4:30 pm
After dropping some meds off at the clinic, it’s Margarita time at the hotel on the beach that we all stay at. We then head over to Jardine’s for dinner, where the Margaritas continue to flow although some switch to beer or wine.  Oh, and the seafood is excellent there.

April 12th

Waiting for the clinic to open
Waiting for the clinic to open

7:30 am
I always run on the beach Saturday morning. It is a long, wide beach and I always have it to myself, save for the occasional truck that passes – they must be looking for something (what?) that has washed up overnight?  I look for pink Conch shells that can be found there.  Some of the regulars have found some on a short walk, why can’t I find even one on much longer runs?

8:00 am
I grab a quick breakfast at the hotel and say hello to everyone, and we all load into the van and head to the clinic. As usual, a line has formed outside. Each month is a little different in regards to what type of doctors will be at the clinic. There is always general medicine, but there also may be dentists or artificial limb specialists. Word is passed down to local part-time clinic employees the week prior, and they give the information to the local radio station which broadcasts the information. For this particular clinic there were two artificial limb specialists that were kept very busy repairing and creating new limbs.

Great fish tacos, and shrimp
Great fish tacos, and shrimp

12:30 pm
One of the jobs of the pilots is to get fish tacos for everyone in town. Today the order was for 53 fish tacos and 7 beef tacos. I couldn’t remember the word for beef so I drew a picture of a cow and we ended up with 7 shrimp tacos. Apparently I REALLY can’t draw.

4:00 pm
Another run to town to get adhesive for the artificial limb guys. When we return you can tell everyone is tired. Some of these doctors and nurses come down every month, and the dedication is truly amazing to witness. They hustle all day long, often improvising on the treatment or the medications that we have on hand. Some are med students, and they are often grinning at the end of the day, amazed that they got to practice real medicine and make a real difference before they normally would get to.

5:00 pm

14 people in a 12 person van on Baja Highway 1?
14 people in a 12 person van on Baja Highway 1?

Margarita and chips again. Tonight we go to the “other” nice restaurant besides Jardines in the area, the Old Mill. Its on the water, which I like. There is a photo of Bono on the wall, he apparently came down for the fishing but ended up singing with the local band.  When we were there – just one really drunk gringo at the bar.

April 13th

8:00 am

Sunset at the Old Mill
Sunset at the Old Mill

The hotel has a buffet on Sunday and its good, with fresh tortillas, fresh fruit and made to order omelettes. We depart at 8:30 to the planes. On our return we do the “desert route” which avoids any morning cloudiness in the San Diego area. Our desert route takes us to Mexicali and then to Calexico.

Although you have to be VERY careful to file the correct manifest information, the correct type of flight plan, and to open the flight plan before you cross the border – if you do all these things right the process on the ground is the complete opposite from Mexico. The CBP officer looks at everyone’s passport, checks them off the manifest, looks at my pilot’s license and aircraft registration and we are all free to go. Five minutes max. Although it takes longer to fuel up and get a popsicle.

3:00 pm

I’ve dropped passengers off in Tracy, Caleveras and then flown on to home base in Placerville.  I put the plane away and drove home.  It feels good to be finished with a successful trip.  I’m tired.  I get tired when flying passengers, I think because they’ve entrusted their life to me, and there is this thought in the back of my mind that I can’t get rid of, that says it would really be great if I didn’t kill them.  Not that I fly less safely when alone, but I’m definitely more relaxed.

If you want to fly for the Flying Sams, or just want to learn more about them, check out the website below:




1 thought on “Pilot’s Log: Flying Samaritan’s Trip to Mexico

  1. Antonio Wong M.D. April, 2014 — 6:09 am

    Working as a doctor at San Quintin clinic with the Flying Samaritan’s is what inspired me to become a pilot. I love reading your posts. As a pilot and an outdoorsman you are inspiring.

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