It was nearly 2 p.m. Tuesday when the Alenia C-27J Spartan, a U.S. Coast Guard aircraft, began its flight along the Orange County coastline.
In the back of the plane with the cargo door open, two flight mechanics looked for oil sheens on the dark teal ocean while reporters on board watched.
Since Saturday, when the Amplify Energy oil spill was reported, the fixed-wing aircraft has flown daily, relaying information about the size and direction of the oil spill to the command center and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, according to U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Steve Strohmaier.
“It’s one of the many assets that the Coast Guard has to assist our local partners to help mitigate environmental disasters,” he said.
At home in Los Angeles, private pilot Bryan Keith was reading about the oil spill when he decided to look for aerial footage of the spill but was unable to find anything.
Keith decided to fly over the disaster area with a friend and take some video footage to upload on his YouTube channel, Wolficorn.
“We really didn’t see a lot of oil in the water,” he said. “We saw some oil on the sand and some oil sheen.”
“I was a little perplexed by it,” he added.
But later in the day as he reviewed the footage, he saw the large area of oil along the coastline.
“It was a frightening realization,” he said. “It was bad, and the oil was doing considerable damage.”
On Monday afternoon, oil spill monitoring and cleanup operations were hampered when a storm system moved over the region, producing rain, thunder and lightning. Gusty winds created higher seas, moving the oil.
It is not clear what caused the damage to the pipeline, which allowed tens of thousands of gallons of crude to spill into the waters off Orange County.
Investigators have said they are looking into whether a ship’s anchor caused the pipe breach, but officials did not provide more information about that probe on Tuesday. Divers and remote vehicle footage have confirmed that the pipeline is no longer leaking, officials said.
Strohmaier said the Coast Guard plane monitoring the oil’s movement is equipped with infrared equipment to help flight crews track it. The plane, he said, was designed to be used for various missions, including search and rescue, transporting resources to disaster zones and surveying oil spills.
On Tuesday, with the storms gone, the 74-foot plane flew over Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach.
From the high vantage point, all that was visible to those on the plane were cargo ships, swaths of expensive real estate, kelp and crashing waves.