A small homemade float plane crashed into Lake Samish early Sunday, March 20, but the pilot escaped with minor injuries and was brought to shore in a rowboat after clinging to one of the aircraft’s pontoons.
“It turned out to be very fortunate,” said Chief Dave Ralston of South Whatcom Fire Authority, whose crews were dispatched to a report of a plane crash into the southeast end of the lake about 9 a .m. Sunday. “He was doing some video with his GoPro, and he was making a turn and miscalculated. He hit the water.”
Ralston said the pilot estimated he was flying about 35 mph when his craft grazed the surface, flipped and disintegrated on impact.
“He was able to hang onto part of the pontoon,” Ralston said. He said the pilot was wearing a life jacket and had a paddle aboard. He was paddling to shore on a piece of wreckage when a lakeside resident towed him to shore with a rowboat.
A Federal Aviation Administration official said the plane was a home-built and unregistered Tractor Pitbull float plane, a single-seat ultralight gyroplane.
Fire department officials could not release the pilot’s name, citing medical confidentiality laws, and the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office did not have the pilot’s name. The FAA will not investigate the crash, because the aircraft was unregistered and homemade.
A Tractor Pitbull is a 13-foot kit plane manufactured by North American Rotorwerks. It resembles a cross between an airplane and a helicopter, with a front propeller, top rotor and a fuselage with rudder and ailerons, but with no fixed wings. This version had pontoons so it could land on water.
Ralston said the aircraft was equipped with a 5-gallon fuel tank that was about half-full with gasoline. He said the state Department of Ecology was notified, but there was no immediate concern about water contamination because the fuel was contained and no sheen was visible.
A Department of Ecology official did not return a phone call Sunday.
Ralston said about 10 South Whatcom firefighters were dispatched, including members of South Whatcom Fire’s water rescue team. An ambulance crew examined the pilot but his injuries were minor, Ralston said.
Robert Mittendorf is a volunteer firefighter with the South Whatcom Fire Authority.