A small airplane landed in water off Locust Beach on Thursday after the pilot reported having engine trouble, according to the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office.
The emergency landing was reported at 4:42 p.m. in an area off Locust Avenue just outside Bellingham city limits. The airplane came to rest in shallow water about 200 yards from shore.
The pilot, identified only as a former naval aviator in his 70s, had hoped to land at nearby Bellingham International Airport – where the airspace had been cleared for him – but couldn’t make it.
He instead landed safely in roughly 3 to 4 feet of water, during high tide, off Locust Beach. The pilot was the only person in the airplane and was uninjured.
“It’s a pretty spectacular landing,” Sheriff’s Lt. Kevin Hester said Thursday.
Hester said it was fortunate the pilot landed in the area during high tide. It wasn’t immediately known if the pilot owned the aircraft.
Authorities believe a person in a boat nearby brought the pilot to shore.
The aircraft originated from Bellingham. The pilot took advantage of the nice weather and went for a day flight of the area, Hester said.
After getting approval from the National Transportation Safety Board, a Lummi Nation Police boat pulled the airplane into deeper water around 5:55 p.m. Thursday – ahead of the tide going out – and slowly towed the airplane to the Port of Bellingham harbor about a mile away.
If Lummi Nation was unable to tow the plane all the way to the harbor, Hester said authorities would try to anchor the plane until a salvage crew could be brought out Friday.
The plane had little fuel left, and no leaks were reported, Hester added.
Locust Beach, also referred to as Whirlwind, has long been popular with kiteboarders, skimboarders and other beach-goers.
Located below the mouth of the Nooksack River, the beach provides access to Bellingham Bay.
The pilot’s military branch was corrected at 1:58 p.m. Friday, Oct. 6, 2017.