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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Everyone survived the crash - you won't belive where the plane floated to on the river's current

Both people survived the April 24 plane crash
in the Columbia River at Astoria, Oregon
Photo by Sheryl Todd

After my first two photos on this blog, I had intended to post a placid picture of the Astoria waterfront, or to show what downtown Astoria looks like. But yesterday afternoon there was an event that takes precedence. I was working in my office on the river, when Laurel called, stumbling over her words. "Right outside your place, we saw a plane crash. I'm not kidding, it's for real. Get out there - take your camera." She and her friend had been looking out the window of her place halfway up the Astoria hill, when she saw a light plane crash into the river about two blocks from where she figured I would be - in the office. I grabbed my camera and trotted the block down to the Maritime Museum - the other block's distance was aquatic. From the bank, I started taking photos. As it turned out, I was the first on scene with a camera, and the only one to capture photos of the people on the plane. It's worth blowing up the photo. You can see them standing hip-deep in water before they were pulled onto the rescue boat. I stayed around and took pictures of the plane as it floated to shore and the Coastguard tried to figure out what to do with it. The people had been taken to the hospital, and reports back at the waterfront were that they were both OK. As it turned out, the occupants of the plane were former Astoria Mayor Edith Henningsgaard Miller and her son, pilot Bill Henningsgaard, a retired Microsoft executive from Seattle. You can read the article in the Daily Astorian online. (After today, you may need to use the search box on the left, and since the paper's site sometimes requires a subscription, you may need to look it up on Google.) I didn't even realize that I had the survivors in my photo! The wind was blowing my hair into my face, the sun was in my eyes, and the focus wasn't set so I could see what I was shooting. I knew the Astorian was looking for pix of the people, but I didn't know I had them, so I stayed for quite awhile with the small crowd in the cold wind. The the pilot boat took off, carrying the survivors to the ambulance a couple blocks away at the pilot boat dock; the pilots had seen the plane coming down and dashed into the river to help. We see pilot boats jetting into the river every day, and they're good at getting places fast. The plane's pilot apparently knew he had a problem with the engine, and was looking for a comparatively safe place to put it down. The plane crash-landed just a few hundred yards upriver from the Maritime Museum where two Coast Guard ships were in dock, and only a few hundred yards (or less) from shore. They were picked up virtually at the crash site, and once the boat had sped away, the plane drifted nose-down in in the river with only the tail and three, then two, windows and a fraction of the wing out of water, coming to rest - unbelievably - just exactly amidships of a Coast Guard ship equipped with a crane for hauling buoys and other objects out of the Columbia River's deadly currents. The crew on the ship roped the plane, and with the help of a Sheriff's boat and a small Coast Guard boat, hauled the plane around to the bow of the ship. I'm not sure what they planned to to with it there, but soon they dragged it back to the side of the bar tender (the bigger ship) and held it there. In awhile, they announced that they were going to haul the plane onboard, and because there was a fuel leak, they called for all lights to be turned off, and they set about moving the piles of gigantic chains with the onboard crane. At this point, all we could see of the tied-up plane was a tip of the tail, rising like a shark's fin just beyond the river-side of the bar tender. At that point the small crowd anticipated getting to watch the unusual spectacle of a plane being hefted out of the water and onto the ship (and what a ringside seat we had, too!), but there was clearly a delay, because the Coast Guard men and women began to appear with snacks and drinks in hand and started waiting it out on the deck and in the cabins. Slowly the crowd dispersed, and I haven't seen the plane again. We went back later in the evening after the Crab and Seafood Festival. The bright lights were on, but the ship's deck was empty. Steve had suggested earlier there would probably be another ship to take the plane to Tongue Point, just up the river, where they have facilities to lift and work with extremely heavy objects.

Water rescues are indeed one of the major faces of this town, although they usually take place out of site of most of us. And Astoria has always had a military component from the moment the location was discovered by Lewis and Clark. Today many Coast Guard personnel are stationed here and comprise a part of Astoria's working waterfront along with fishing, shipping, oil cleanup, marine exploration, cable-laying, ship docking, marine and riverine biology, and other aspects I'll learn more about as I progress with this blog. I simply hadn't expected to get into these facets of the town with a dramatic example so early in the blog! By the way, the hills on the other side of the river are the state of Washington.

I've now put the story in pictures on my personal blog along with a description of the photos. Or, you can check out even more photos in my Picasa web album. Here's a link to the first picture. You can click through for the story if you'd like.


Kathy H said...

WOW! You surely had a great vantage point for quite a show! Great pictures.

tapirgal said...

Thanks! It was really interesting to watch the whole operation after I knew the people were safe.

Anonymous said...

Wow! You can add "photojournalist" to your resume! Great capture!!

Hilda said...

It isn't everyday one can witness something like this, much less record it!

Welcome to the CDPB community! This is the most dramatic beginning to a photoblog that I have yet seen!

Ming the Merciless said...

Wow, that is quite amazing -- to witness and document the event like that.

Bubblewench said...

WOW! That's pretty amazing! I love Astoria, and I am in love with this photo site!

And what an exciting post!

Annie said...

Awesome. After visiting the Marine Museum a couple of years ago, I gained a very healthy respect for the personnel who handle these rescue missions. That this one literally floated up to them is nothing short of astounding.

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