BELLINGHAM Four boys helped rescue two shivering men who survived a seaplane crash in Lake Whatcom on Friday afternoon, Aug. 31.
The pilot, 76, was practicing landings in the lake, near Camp Firwood, when he came in too steep about 5 p.m. and "submarined" under a swell in the water, crumpling the nose and jettisoning the cockpit's glass canopy, said Whatcom County Sheriff's Sgt. Kevin Mede.
A 66-year-old passenger and the pilot tried to bail water out of the cockpit as it flooded. Within a few minutes, four Bellingham High School students 17-year-old twins Nick and Sam DeMuth and their 16-year-old friends, Justin Pennell and Nick Donath came across the boat. They were aboard the twins' 14-foot inflatable dinghy on a "pleasure cruise" in the lake when they saw the plane stranded just off shore at a hard-to-reach part of the beach, in the 1700 block of Lake Whatcom Boulevard.
They had seen the plane flying overhead but hadn't heard it crash. They said the seaplane must have been drifting for a little more than 15 minutes before they discovered it.
One of the men was still in the cockpit, trying to bail out water. The other man had swam a quarter mile to the shoreline. "He was shivering," Sam said.
They fastened a rope between the dinghy and the experimental plane, then tugged it to an accessible stretch of beach. The twins called their mom and asked her to bring blankets.
The two men warmed up inside an ambulance when it arrived but declined further medical aid. The pilot had 40 years of flying experience, and admitted it was a miscalculation on his part that caused the crash, Mede said. Field tests for drugs or alcohol came up negative.
Both men in the plane were from Anacortes. Their names were not released by federal officials, because the crash is still under investigation. The men declined to talk to reporters.
Because deputies aren't sure about the integrity of the plane's hull, it will have to be trucked out in pieces. Until then, it remained tied up to a large tree, sitting in the shallows of the shoreline. Firefighters tested it for fuel and other leaks; none were found. Shiraz Balolia, who owns the property, was out for dinner with his wife when he got a call from the fire department.
"I've had boats stranded here before," he said, "but never planes."
It was the second plane crash of the day in Whatcom County. A couple hours earlier a plane made an emergency landing on Interstate 5. Nobody was hurt in that crash, either.
Reach Caleb Hutton at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-715-2276.