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Unmanned plane ‘got away’ in rural Sonoma County

The Associated Press
Thursday December 27, 2001

PETALUMA — An unmanned aircraft somehow broke from its moorings as its owner worked on the engine and took to the air Wednesday afternoon in rural Sonoma County. 

Authorities weren’t sure where the Aeronaca Champion, a small two-seat plane from the 1950s, was headed, nor how it took off without a pilot. 

The owner “was working on the engine I guess and it got away from him,” said Sonoma County sheriff’s spokesman Phil Coughlin. 

The office said it was dispatched helicopters to search for wreckage east of Petaluma. The plane had less than 15 gallons of fuel, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, and would not likely have been able to stay in the air for too long. 

Authorities gave conflicting reports about when and where the plane took off. Coughlin said it left from a small, rural airstrip in the county’s southwest around 4:30 p.m.; an FAA spokesman said it left from Petaluma around 3:45 p.m.