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Small Airplane Ran Out of Fuel in La Jolla, Killing Lone Pilot

N1400 crash
Author: La Prensa
Created: 21 November, 2023
Updated: 22 November, 2023
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5 min read

By Arturo Castañares
Editor-at-Large

A small single-engine airplane crashed in La Jolla last Wednesday night killing the lone pilot when he ran out of fuel after attempting to land at Kearney Mesa's Montgomery Field airport in light rain and clouds.

The owner and pilot, Michael L. Salour, 74, of Carlsbad, had flown his 1979 Cessna P210N Centurion airplane from French Valley airport near Temecula to Concord near Napa Valley two days earlier.

The return flight was planned to return to French Valley but Salour missed an instrument approach due to bad weather and was diverted by Air Traffic Control (ATC) to McClellan Palomar Airport in Carlsbad where the weather was still cloudy but within the safe parameters for an instrument approach.

Salour seemed to struggle with clearance directions toward Palomar in multiple exchanges with ATC then asked to change his destination to Montgomery Field. Salour did not seem familiar with Montgomery Field because he asked ATC for the airport identifier, the four letter unique code for the airport used to input the route into GPS navigation systems. 

The airplane flew into San Diego, passed Miramar airbase, and toward Gillespie Field in El Cajon before being cleared to attempt an instrument approach at Montgomery Field in light rain and misty conditions.

The control tower at Montgomery Field closed at 9:00pm so the airport became a non-controlled airport meaning airplanes can still land but must self-identify by broadcasting their location over the open radio frequency. 

Salour remained in contact with SoCal Approach, the regional ATC that handles in-bound and out-bound aircraft in the San Diego airspace.

During his approach to Montgomery, Salour lined up about 1/3 of a mile south of the runway and overflew the airport at a low altitude of about 200 feet above the ground. He continued to fly at that low altitude for about one mile west of the airport, an unusually low level not consistent with FAA altitude limits.

Salour came back on the radio with ATC saying he was executing a missed approach because he "couldn't see the runway" and was advised to climb to 3,000 feet because the minimum maneuvering altitude in the area was 2,100 feet.

That's when Salour first alerted ATC that he was "running out of fuel".

“Very few minutes. Just need to get us as fast as you can on the ground,” Salour radioed back to ATC when asked the status of his fuel.

ATC recordings show that within two minutes Salour was out of fuel.

“We lost all our fuel, so we have to make emergency landing,” he declared over the radio. ATC gave him two additional heading directions to fly back toward the airport.

“Are you completely out of fuel?” ATC asked.

“Affirmative,” Salour responded.

Salour was directed toward the runway which was just two miles away from his location.

"What heading do you want?" Salour asked in what became his last radio transmission.

After Salour missed the approach to land at Montgomery Field he continued heading West toward La Jolla before he abruptly climbed to about 5,000 feet then erratically descended to nearly ground level, climbing again to about 3,000, then finally losing control and crashing in a La Jolla neighborhood west of Kearney Mesa.

Salour's total flight time on Wednesday just over four hours, within the normal range of the aircraft if it had taken on its total capacity of fuel before departing from Concord.

The flight had been conducted on an instrument flight plan given the margin weather conditions and should have maintained at least 45 minutes of reserve fuel as required by the FAA.

During emergency situations, including being low on fuel, private airplanes are allowed to land at military bases like Miramar. It is not clear why Salour did not declare an emergency and land at Miramar before instead of attempting a landing at Montgomery Field.

FAA records show Salour held an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate, the highest level of pilot licensure, and several type rating for larger commercial aircraft, including large Boeing 747 jets. Salour had over 17,000 hours of flight experience, according to his personal website.

Salour died from blunt force trauma suffered in the crash.

Since January 2020, all aircraft operating within most congested airspace must have Automatic Dependent Surveillance–Broadcast (ADS-B) technology which sends out the aircraft's exact location, tail number, altitude and airspeed.

ADS-B information is much more accurate than previous radar systems and can also be tracked by other aircraft if equipped with ADS-B receivers which show all aircraft within range of the airplane.

Online flight tracking services website Flight Aware shows the flight information of the accident aircraft here.

Salour was a physicist who earned his Masters and Doctorate degrees in Physics from Harvard University and had published over 87 research papers in peer-reviewed journals, in addition to holding 19 patents in electro-optic and integrated optical technologies.

The founder of several companies, including Linkatel, Tactical Air Navigation (TACAN) and Integrated Photonic Technologies (IPITEK), Salour maintained his offices in Carlsbad, but the airplane seems to have been based at French Valley Airport in Temecula based on previous flights.