Flying Baja, A Pilot’s Adventure – Day One

The first in a series of guest posts by volunteer pilot Will Worthington about his flying adventure over the changing coastline of Baja California.

LightHawk volunteer pilot Will Worthington kayaks in the Sea of Cortez with family dog Sofia.
LightHawk volunteer pilot Will Worthington kayaks in the Sea of Cortez with family dog Sofia.

How it Began

In 1980, my family and I began falling in love with the Sea of Cortez and the Baja Peninsula. We were entranced by that part of the world and its beautiful shoreline, estuaries, wildlife and people. After taking a few flights to Cabo San Lucas, Mulege, Loreto, and other remote destinations, I knew had to see more.

Eight years ago, I became involved with LightHawk and started encouraging support for conservation to maintain the wild character of Baja and sustain the health and abundance of the Sea of Cortez. The region has started to see ongoing construction projects, sites of proposed mega-developments, areas threatened by mining, and other sensitive areas in need of careful attention. I found an ally in LightHawk’s Mesoamerica program manager, Armando Ubeda who shared my enthusiasm.

 Aerial Photo, Cabo Riviera Marina, Mega-resort Development, Resort, La Ribeira, East Cape, Baja California, Mexico Copyright:©Ralph Lee Hopkins with aerial support by LightHawk
Aerial of Cabo Riviera Marina a large resort under development on the East Cape of Baja California, Mexico
Copyright:©Ralph Lee Hopkins with aerial support by LightHawk

When my phone rang earlier this year, it was Armando asking if I would be willing to donate my time to pilot LightHawk’s Cessna 206 for a photography mission over Baja. Would I ever. What ended up as a 10-day photography expedition began, for me, on May 17th with a commercial flight to Mazatlan.

Day 1 – Off to Sea

Arizona pilots are not accustomed to flying long distances over water. As I picked up LightHawk’s meticulously maintained Cessna 206 in Mazatlan, I did my best to suppress my apprehension for the ferry flight to San Jose del Cabo to begin the photo expedition.

I measured the distance on the charts several times and several ways, and sure enough it was less than 200 nautical miles, or less than two hours across the entrance to the Sea of Cortez. Nevertheless, I still took a deep breath as I lifted off and headed into the wild blue yonder with no land in sight for a long time.

© Ralph Lee Hopkins – With Aerial Support by LightHawk
© Ralph Lee Hopkins – With Aerial Support by LightHawk

Friendly Voices in the Sky

Although I thought I’d be on my own while I crossed from the mainland to the Peninsula, I was happy to hear a welcome response from San Jose air traffic control. He saw me on his radar approaching at 90 miles out. Nobody else heard the cheer or the sigh of relief aboard the plane.

The Cessna 206 is well equipped with two navigation systems, as well as a back up.  Before departing, I had donned a self-inflating flotation vest and pulled the six-man life raft up where I might have a chance of finding it in the event of a water landing. Knowing I had Air Traffic Control watching for me, and safety precautions in place, I engaged the autopilot, tuned the radio to Willie’s Roadhouse and broke out the snacks.

When I finally arrived in San Jose, I had logged 1.9 hours on the tachometer and a sense of mission accomplished in bringing the 206 to the tip of Baja so the expedition could begin. The adventure had just begun.

Up Next, Pilot Log #2: Follow Will as he explores a wild (for now?) coastline.

Will Worthington is a LightHawk volunteer pilot and Board Member, registered civil engineer and certified flight instructor. He lives in Carefree, Arizona with his bride of 51 years and flies a Cessna 182 RG out of Phoenix Deer Valley Airport.

Changing Planet

Meet the Author
After spending a year and four days in the extreme cold and white of Antarctica, I came back to the world a changed person. My passion is to share stories of people doing extraordinary things and I've done that since 2008 as the chief storyteller for LightHawk. LightHawk is a unique non-profit that grants flights to conservation groups through a network of volunteer pilots. Nearly everyday LightHawk donates educational, scientific and photography flights covering the U.S., Mexico, Central America and parts of Canada. LightHawk volunteer pilots, aircraft and resources help to tip the balance toward sustainability for every major environmental issue within our targeted areas of focus. My favorite part of flying at 1,000 feet in a small aircraft is seeing how that perspective changes how people see their communities and empowers them to take positive action on behalf of conservation. Taking off is pretty cool too.