Pilot Lue Morton Describes 'Hardest Part' of Parachuting Down to Ocean

Lue Morton says he felt like a 5-year-old at one point in his mid-flight scare.

January 29, 2015, 8:32 AM

— -- With a parachute over his head, a life-vest around his neck and his plane hurtling towards the Pacific Ocean, pilot Lue Morton paused not to pray but to take a selfie with his GoPro camera.

“It was kind of funny,” Morton told ABC News. “Right before that, the gentleman in the Coast Guard told me, 'I do not envy you at all.'"

Morton, 25, was seven hours into a solo flight from California to Hawaii Sunday when his single-engine Cirrus SR-22 suffered what Morton believes was a malfunction in the fuel system.

After calling for help on his satellite phone, Morton picked up the phone again to call his dad, Pat Morton.

“It kind of takes on a new meaning when your typical end of your phone call conversation is the typical 'I love you,' and then, well, 'Hopefully, I’ll be able to tell you that again,'” Lue Morton said.

“The hardest part of that flight was making that phone call,” he said. “At that point I told them, ‘I’m probably going to be ditching in the water.’”

Morton did ditch his plane into the water at the advice of the U.S. Coast Guard, which realized Morton would not make it to land or within range of a rescue helicopter.

Coast Guard officials diverted Morton south of his position to the location of a nearby Holland America cruise ship in the middle of an 18-day round-trip cruise to Lahaina, Hawaii, from San Diego, that had agreed to help.

As Morton, a pilot since the age of 17, circled the ship with the fuel in his plane dwindling, he prepared to pull the “airframe parachute system," a standard feature on the Cirrus planes Morton flies as a pilot at The Flight Academy.

“I felt like a 5-year-old standing on a high dive looking down,” Morton said. “I was like 'OK, alright, here we go.'”

The parachute deployed with a controlled explosion, something that Morton said caught him off guard despite his preparation.

“You tell yourself what’s going to happen and you talk yourself through it ... but you’re still not quite ready for what’s going to happen,” he said.

Morton grabbed his life raft in the ocean and said he then wondered if he would be able to make it out.

“There’s a lot of things that could have gone wrong,” Morton said, "[such as] if I get my pant leg or shirt sleeve caught on something as I’m getting out, or I get a huge swell or something that cascades over the aircraft or rolls the aircraft.”

None of those things did go wrong for Morton. He watched from his tiny life raft as the brand new plane sank into the ocean.

Morton was then got picked up by a boat sent from the Holland America cruise ship.

“I’m really grateful that they were able to take care of me while I was there,” Morton said.

“First time on a cruise boat," he joked. "Hopefully, the last I’m going to drop in on.”