Helicopter takes on unusual mission of pulling sunken airplane out of lake where the pilot had crash landed earlier this month
A Sikorsky helicopter hovered about 100 feet over Marion Lake on Wednesday afternoon, bright yellow against green fir trees, then slowly gained altitude and lifted a sunken Cessna airplane out of the water.
Water sprayed out of the crooked back of the plane as it rose, and aircraft co-owner Roger Emmert of Sweet Home reacted with dismay.
“If it wasn’t ruined, it is now,” Emmert said, adding that the weight of the water broke the tail during liftoff.
Still, Emmert tried to look at the bright side. No one died in the plane crash on Aug. 18, he said.
Lebanon pilot Trevor Schultz, 28, and three passengers were in the 1961 Cessna 172 when its engine failed, forcing an emergency landing in Marion Lake.
The lake, in the far northeast corner of Linn County, is three miles from the nearest trailhead, so a helicopter was necessary to retrieve the plane.
Witness Drew Chapman of Yamhill, who was camping with friends the day of the crash, was back to watch the plane be removed from the water.
He credited Schultz with saving lives, as the pilot pulled the nose of the stalled plane up and dipped its tail in the water to create a smooth landing.
“He knew he was going to have to put it down,” Chapman added. He said Schultz flew once over the length of the lake and did a quick 180-degree turn, reducing speed and height all the way before splashing down.
Grady McMahan, Detroit district ranger with the U.S. Forest Service, said he had never heard of a plane crashing into a lake in the Willamette National Forest.
“If a plane had to crash anywhere, this is the right place,” he said, adding that Marion Lake is one of the largest in the Cascades, stretching across more than 300 acres.
There was no oil spill or debris from the plane.
“It looks as though the plane was never here,” said Darrin Neff, fish biologist, over a radio.
“I think we got really lucky that the wilderness lake is still pristine,” McMahan said.
Back at the trailhead, the Federal Aviation Administration got to work inspecting the plane. Nu Venture, a Dallas airplane recovery firm, will remove the plane from the trailhead today.
Ian Hansen, FAA aviation safety inspector, declined much comment, except to say that the investigation could take months, depending on its complexity.
Croman Corporation worker Arturo Nabarro said that his White City-based helicopter company usually deals with logs, hauling water buckets to fight fires, and lifting air conditioning units to the top of skyscrapers.
The Sikorsky used Wednesday had been fighting fires in California earlier in the day.
Nabarro had been a Croman employee for four years, and couldn’t recall a time when a helicopter had transported a plane.