Pacific Northwest Flying

Pacific Northwest Flying Forum => Discussion Forum => Topic started by: rshannon on June 29, 2014, 08:12:34 PM

Title: Closing flight plan at Stehekin
Post by: rshannon on June 29, 2014, 08:12:34 PM
Flying to Stehekin  (6S9) tomorrow and wondering what's the best way to close a flight plan. I can close from the air with field in site, of course, but how low is FSS coverage over there?. Does Seattle FSS listen there on 122.55? Don't see any RCO's. Perhaps there's a better plan. Pretty sure there's no cell coverage. TNX

UPDATE: FSS briefer says the nearest Seattle Radio listening hardware is at Omak (OMAK) on 122.2. With big mtns. in between there and Stehekin, I'll have to call them while still pretty high.

[PS -- Sorry I didn't get this into a proper sub-forum. Resolved to do better next time.]

Title: Re: Closing flight plan at Stehekin
Post by: skywag on June 30, 2014, 02:00:50 AM
File a "round robin" flight plan. I assume you are also leaving Stehekin.....
Title: Re: Closing flight plan at Stehekin
Post by: BruceAir on June 30, 2014, 05:20:23 AM
Check out this post ( at the forum. The EasyActivate/EasyClose features work well.
Title: Re: Closing flight plan at Stehekin
Post by: rshannon on July 06, 2014, 04:53:02 PM
Well, here's how this turned out. I could not use the Easy Activate/Easy Close option because there is no Wi-Fi/email/Internet service available. I advised FSS when filing the flight plan and again when opening it of the likely difficulty of closing. When opening the plan in the air, the briefer advised of various frequencies I could try, with hopes of reaching the Omak RCO, and if necessary, Flight Watch and/or ATC. We arrived over Stehekin (elev. ~1260) flying at 6500' and continued S. over Lake Chelan, eventually climbing even further to 8000' (with what should have been a pretty clear line of sight to Omak) repeatedly making calls on all frequencies -- all with no replies -- so we turned back, circled down, and landed. (Radios included a GTN 650 and SL40, with both top and bottom antenna options.)

On the ground, we were fortunate that a very generous local couple happened to drive by and offer a ride to the Visitors Center (ranger station) at Stehekin Landing, 4.5 miles away, so we could use the ranger station phone -- one of only a handful the entire area -- to close the flight plan. There were various delays, but when we finally got there, the rangers were familiar with this drill, and were happy to oblige. By the time I got through to FSS they were already looking for us. The briefer said one of their people had heard a call, but did not get a callback reply from us. Later we found that a few people in the Stehekin area do have home satellite Internet service, but as far as we could determine, there is no public service anywhere.

There is a single pay phone at the landing, however, even after giving it a valid credit card, it would not complete calls to an (800) number. There is a shuttle bus service that runs up and down the valley 4 times a day ($7 ea. way to the landing area) but absent that or getting lucky as we did, it would take a long time to walk to the ranger station phone. Though we didn't find them until later, there were a couple of pretty nice airport "crew bicycles" normally stationed by the brown sign mid-way down on the NE side of the runway, which might be another way to get to the ranger station.

My advice would be 1) give yourself ample en route time on the flight plan, 2) plan on climbing higher than 8K to close via radio, and/or 3) plan ahead to get to the ranger station (4.5 slow miles away) at the landing in the most efficient way possible. It's about 1/3 mile walk from the strip across the Harlequin Bridge to the shuttle route. The shuttle schedule is available online, but by the time you secure the plane, walk to the shuttle route, wait a bit, and ride to the landing, it will take well over an hour, at best, even if you're perfectly synched with the 4X-day shuttle schedule.

We did have a great time camping at the beautiful Harlequin Campground, about 1/3 mile from the strip on the river, and hiking out of High Bridge at the N. end of the shuttle route (also $7 ea. way.) Photos of the expedition can be seen at (
Title: Re: Closing flight plan at Stehekin
Post by: Tom-D. on July 06, 2014, 06:11:41 PM
Beautiful pictures, thanks for putting them up.
Title: Re: Closing flight plan at Stehekin
Post by: DavidD on July 06, 2014, 09:39:21 PM

We did have a great time camping at the beautiful Harlequin Campground, about 1/3 mile from the strip on the river, and hiking out of High Bridge at the N. end of the shuttle route (also $7 ea. way.) Photos of the expedition can be seen at [url][/url] ([url][/url])

Thanks for the update.

Sometimes I wonder if I could use a SPOT satellite device, and send an "I'm OK" signal to a responsible party, and have them close the flight plan.

With the trouble you went to, if you return, are you tempted to not file a flight plan?

Oh, and thanks for sharing the photos - I especially like this one of yours

Title: Re: Closing flight plan at Stehekin
Post by: rshannon on July 07, 2014, 05:55:00 PM
The relayed tracker message idea (whether Spot or InReach, etc.) might be viable, perhaps even with the Easy Open/Easy Close procedure, which I've not yet used to completion. (My better half had the same idea about using one of the trackers somehow -- a day late but still waaay ahead of me. LOL) With so many people carrying those devices now, it would be good to make them useful for that. It's certainly something I should investigate, i.e., what it would take for FSS to accept a closure from a designated relay person, or whatever. We have both a Spot and an InReach, and over rough terrain, we each carry one of them in our flight vests, along with minimal survival gear.

Yes, the temptation to not file a flight plan is there -- until I'm flying through the rocks and it seems like such an obvious, imperative, no-brainer. But by that time, even if you can reach FSS (dubious) you're probably too busy "flying in the middle of the air" to be filing a plan en route. In this case, I made sure the flight plan remarks contained details about the route, noting I would follow Hwy 20 to Rainy Pass, turn S. and follow the Pacific Crest Trail to Stehekin River, then downriver to 6S9. (Flying it in Google Earth first was a great help and of course, fun.) That last, off-highway segment took less than 15 min. (not counting the additional climb over the lake to attempt radio contact) but if you have to put a plane down in that environment, even near a highway, achieving a good outcome is a dicey proposition, to put it mildly, even for the best of pilots.

Our temptation to not file a flight plan is motivated by wanting to avoid hassle to 1) oneself, and 2) others. I owe it to passengers and family to get over #1 ASAP. As for others, sure, we want to do whatever we can to minimize inconvenience, unnecessary effort & SAR resource usage but, at the end of the day (flight), wherever that is, taking whatever action is necessary to respond to even potential emergencies is FSS's job. They do it well, and I'm very glad they do. Mitigating the potential personal and system hassles has to begin before the flight. I guess the moral of this story, at least for me, is that having a plan to close the flight plan -- on the ground in the boonies if need be -- is part of the flight planning. This time we knew that worst case, either we or our message would have to get to the ranger station, a long way away, and that's what happened. Through the generosity of strangers (now friends) we got relatively lucky getting it done. (BTW, those folks estimated that even in summer there are less than 200 full time residents in the whole area, stretched out over 30+ miles of roads.)

In the mountains, I want to stack the deck in my favor as much as possible -- whatever it takes -- so I will (hopefully) always file if I can. Even when FSS knows I may be having trouble closing, I still want them to start checking if I'm late, by the book. (Who wouldn't?) This time, when I finally connected to a "WA briefer" via the ranger phone, and told him I was late closing my plan, right away he interrupted to ask if I was 254MR -- before I said so. I had become his priority, and they had started looking. I've been in a similar situation a couple of times before. Even after facing embarrassment (when a late close was my fault) it always felt really good to know that even if I screwed up, they did not.

The bottom line for Stehekin is that if you can't close your flight plan from the air, you should 1) commandeer one of the "crew bicycles" to get to the landing, or 2) walk 1/3 mile (+/-) across the Harlequin Bridge to the NE side of the river and the main road. Then, if you're not in synch with the shuttle schedule, try to hitch a ride S. to the landing and the phone at the ranger station/visitor's center. Though it's sparsely populated, there is occasional traffic on the road, and people are very friendly and helpful. It might take awhile, but your chances of getting there are pretty good.

Glad you enjoyed the photos, which were taken by my wife. It's a real privilege to be able to fly in such spectacular country together, and especially rewarding in a plane we built for just this kind of mission.
Title: Re: Closing flight plan at Stehekin
Post by: pasichnyk on August 06, 2014, 11:10:50 PM
Was there cellular service when in the air over lake chelan?  Seems like there would be coverage there, no?  If so, could call in and close before descending, or use something like foreflight while still airborne.
Title: Re: Closing flight plan at Stehekin
Post by: RV10Rob on August 07, 2014, 07:52:18 AM
There are a couple jet routes that pass nearby. You could call a passing airplane on center frequency and have them relay your message.  Probably not reliable, though.

Title: Re: Closing flight plan at Stehekin
Post by: rshannon on August 07, 2014, 08:51:40 AM
Good ideas, but unfortunately, cell phone and radio calls on Seattle Center frequency (both direct call and a requests for relay) were tried but didn't work for us. YMMV.
Title: Re: Closing flight plan at Stehekin
Post by: N804RV on August 07, 2014, 02:04:48 PM
I've been thinking on this one for a couple of days now.  Having been in the SAR business for a few years, and having been involved in several complicated, expensive and dangerous searches (mostly for knuckleheads who had no business out in the wilderness), I think I would opt NOT to file into Stehekin.

In the past, I'd leave a VFR sectional and a written description of my aircraft, my route, my gear, and planned egress time.  I'd tell whomever I left this with at what time I'd like them to start worrying if they hadn't heard from me.  And I'd tell them NOT to call the authorities before that time.

Now, I'm thinking of getting something like the SPOT tracker before I do anymore backcountry activities.
Title: Re: Closing flight plan at Stehekin
Post by: Frank on August 07, 2014, 08:42:12 PM
Filing a flight plan is fine but I prefer flight following especially in areas where there are few airports or scatter population. Flight plan doesn't do much for me.