Plane crash kills pilot

A 73-year-old Langley man died Sunday morning when his experimental airplane crashed and burned just southeast of Porter Field.

Jan Smith, a spokeswoman for the Island County Sheriff’s Office, said the owner of the plane was Louis Hagler, but for lack of a positive identification by the county coroner’s office could not definitively say that it was his body recovered from the aircraft.

However, witnesses in the area at the time of the crash reported Hagler had just taken off from Porter Field when his plane banked to the left and went down in a densely wooded area just southeast of the runaway at Porter Field. Hagler, the only occupant of the two-seater, was flying a Whittman kit plane.

The crash occurred about one-half mile off Coles Road at about 10:30 a.m. Smith said the wreckage was spotted by an NAS Whidbey jet pilot flying overhead.

According to the Island County Coroner’s office “thermal burns” were the cause of Hagler’s death. The coroner’s office is not officially releasing the name of the deceased pending identification through dental records.

The plane burned on impact and was still smoldering when Fire District 3 personnel reached the site.

Island County Sheriff’s deputies Dan Todd and Laura Price and 26 volunteers from Island County Fire District 3 responded to the crash scene, which was deep in the woods off Coles Road. FD3 Battalion Chief Don Elliott said the crash was hard to find.

“The plane was burning, but it was so deep we couldn’t see the smoke from the road,” Elliott said.

The aerodynamic skin covering the craft’s airframe was completely burned, but the American flag on the tail was still visible through the trees.

The site of the crash is on private property. A trail led to the crash site. As emergency personnel doused the plane’s engine with fire extinguishers, a small plane could be heard flying overhead. Firefighters secured the scene with yellow tape and watched for flare ups from the smoldering plane as they waited for Washington State Patrol troopers and investi-gators from the Federal Aviation Administration. Firefighters from the Department of Natural Resources were also called to keep fire from spreading from the wrecked airplane.

The crash will be investigated by the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board. NTSB crash investigator Deborah Eckrote said her agency’s investigation could take anywhere from several weeks to several months to complete. The agency is dealing with a relatively small crash in this case: Eckrote said Hagler’s Whittman probably weighed only about 1,500 pounds.

Eckrote said, according to her records, Hagler’s private pilot’s license was issued in 1981. She said her office will be interviewing witnesses to the accident.

Several Coles Road residents said they heard the plane flying, then saw it disappear into the trees. One woman said she heard tree limbs breaking but “It sounded like a limb falling. It wasn’t very loud.”

According to Mike Fergus a spokesman for the FAA, all experimental aircraft — the category into which kit planes fall — must meet certification standards.

It was the first fatal plane crash on Whidbey Island in five years.

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