Shivering but alive: Pilot survives crash into Saratoga Passage

Coupeville pilot Michael Clark borrows a phone from Island County Sheriff’s Office deputy Thomas Brewer. Clark’s phone was soaked when his powered glider crashed into Saratoga Passage on Friday.

Bundled in blankets just a few feet from his nearly submerged aircraft, a shivering pilot told The Record, “Yes,” he did have a final comment.

“I hate gravity,” he said with a grin.

That was Michael Clark, a 63-year-old Coupeville man who crashed his plane into Saratoga Passage on Friday and waded away with nary a scratch. In fact, the only victims in the potentially fatal accident were Clark’s aircraft, a Pipistrel Virus touring motor glider valued at about $85,000, and his dripping and nonfunctional smartphone.

The incident occurred at about 3:40 p.m. just offshore from Gary and Janis Bluhm’s beach cabin in the Bells Beach area. Janis Bluhm was working in her garden when she heard a muffled sound. She looked up to see the plane, and Clark scrambling out of the stricken aircraft, about 50 feet from her bulkhead. The bewildered homeowner sprang into action, calling 9-1-1 and her husband.

She asked the latter for a line.

“I said, ‘What do you want that rope for,’ and she said, ‘There’s an airplane in the water,’” Gary Bluhm later recalled with a chuckle.

Clark promptly tied off his glider, which was quickly filing with water, to an old piling.

According to Clark, he took off from A.J. Eisenberg Airport in Oak Harbor. He’d been airborne for about 20 minutes and was headed home when trouble arouse. The engine sputtered to a halt. Soaring over Saratoga Passage, Clark said he was too low to attempt a restart and too far away to make it to the nearest airfield. Forty years of flying experience told him he was about to get wet.

Lining up with the shoreline, he said he executed a “full stall” right before touchdown and that the aircraft was likely going no more than about 30 knots at impact.

“It was a hard hit,” Clark said, but not so jarring as to cause injury. He extricated himself with little problem, stepping out into waist-deep water and was greeted by two very worried but friendly homeowners. The line helped too.

Clark said he got his private pilot’s license in 1975, and that he was never afraid for his life.

The scene after the crash was largely lighthearted. Police and fire officials attended to Clark, and the Bluhms found their home a center of attention. Relieved that Clark was OK, the Bluhms soon found some humor in their odd new yard art.

“We were just thinking about how we are going to decorate it,” Janis Bluhm laughed.