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Pilot makes right decisions in powerless ditching
A small plane made a splash landing on the waters of Useless Bay at 5:44 p.m. Thursday, with all persons on board landing high and dry and uninjured.
The plane -- a single-engine, 1949 Beachcraft Bonanza -- was piloted by Orcas Island resident Robin Watson, with passengers Eric Brandt of Bellevue, Veronica San Martin of Santa Cruz, Calif., and Gary Abood of Orcas on board. It departed Crest Airpark in Kent earlier that afternoon and was heading to East Sound on Orcas Island.
After the accident, passenger Brandt estimated the plane was about three to five miles off Double Bluff at the first sign of trouble. Five minutes before making the emergency landing, temperature and pressure gauges in the cockpit began shaking and the plane experienced a loss of power, according to the pilot.
At that time, Watson radioed Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.
"At that time we weren't declaring an emergency, but a few moments later we were," he said.
Watson guided the plane through a decent parallel to the shore, then landed on the water, gliding for a distance before Watson beached it near the east end of Shore Avenue.
A shoreline scattered with people out enjoying the summer sun witnessed the spectacle.
Greg Hardy, who was visiting Whidbey Island from Portland, Ore., was at Double Bluff Park when he first caught sight of the troubled plane.
"We could see it was sputtering and lightly rocking, and we called 911 before it even hit the water," Hardy said. "The plane came down on the water with a real big splash, and until I saw the guy land I was really concerned."
However, during a situation that may sound chaotic, the air in the cockpit remained calm.
"Nobody ever had a moment of concern. We didn't lurch forward or anything," said passenger Abood, who is a commissioner with the Port of Orcas.
"It was a perfect example of how if everyone is safe and calm, everything turns out."
The only injuries in the crash were sustained by the aircraft itself. The prop was bent and the bottom of the plane was scratched, as the landing gear was not extended. Only the tail of the plane was in the water when Island County Sheriff's personnel, paramedics and Fire District 3 volunteers arrived on the scene.
The responding fire volunteers were assisted by a crowd of people from the beach in pulling the plane out of the Useless Bay tidewaters onto dry beach along Shore Avenue.
According to a report from the Island County Sheriff's Office, the incident is being considered a "controlled ditching." The plane will remain on the beach until Monday, when an investigator from the Federal Aviation Administration can inspect the aircraft.