Neil Morrison and Eric Taylor were injured when this plane crashed on a Discovery Bay beach on Sunday. (East Jefferson Fire-Rescue Marine Unit)

Neil Morrison and Eric Taylor were injured when this plane crashed on a Discovery Bay beach on Sunday. (East Jefferson Fire-Rescue Marine Unit)

Experienced pilots credited by museum director for actions in plane crash

Men sustain injuries in landing on Discovery Bay beach

DISCOVERY BAY — When he cranked the engine of the 1941 Boeing Stearman, the Port Townsend Aero Museum director marveled at how beautiful the biplane looked and sounded.

Michael Payne followed it down the taxiway in a golf cart, and he watched pilots Neil Morrison and Eric Taylor take off and climb to a safe altitude just after 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon.

“Who would have known that, 15 minutes later, he would be landing on the beach?” Payne said Monday.

The PT-17 fixed-wing, single-engine aircraft, a World War II trainer the museum maintains in its collection, experienced engine failure and crashed, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Sgt. Mark Apeland said.

Both pilots were flown to Harborview Medical Center on Sunday with minor injuries, Apeland said.

Payne said Taylor, who had a broken finger, had to be extricated through the bottom of the fuselage but was released from the hospital later that night.

Morrison was kept overnight Sunday for observation of possible cracked ribs or sternum, Payne said.

Harborview spokeswoman Susan Gregg said Monday that Morrison was in satisfactory condition and that Taylor was no longer at the hospital.

A helicopter hovers near the site of an aircraft crash at Discovery Bay on Sunday. (East Jefferson Fire-Rescue Marine Unit)

A helicopter hovers near the site of an aircraft crash at Discovery Bay on Sunday. (East Jefferson Fire-Rescue Marine Unit)

Both Payne and Pete Hanke are pilots who spoke highly of Morrison and Taylor. Hanke is one of three elected commissioners for the Port of Port Townsend, which runs Jefferson County International Airport.

“It was a 60-year-old airplane, and every time you take off in a plane like that, you want to be thinking, ‘What happens if the engine quits?’ ” Hanke said.

Payne said the plane started to lose oil and began to run rough, and that’s when Morrison started to look for a place to land from about 1,200 feet.

As the plane descended, Payne said the engine failed.

“Fortunately we had a very experienced pilot at the controls, and he elected to try to land on the beach instead of a field,” Payne said. “He did an amazing job of getting the airplane down and keeping it out of the water.”

Morrison is one of the museum’s flight instructors who works with kids, and Taylor is the adult volunteer coordinator at the museum, Payne said.

“The interesting thing was [Sunday’s] ground school topic was going to be on emergency procedures,” Payne said.

The flight was supposed to be a scenic look over the Miller Peninsula and back to Port Townsend, Payne said. But then he got a call from Morrison from the narrow beach in the 3500 block of Old Gardiner Road.

One of the wings hit the ground, and the plane cartwheeled before it stopped, Apeland said. Responding agencies included the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Discovery Bay Fire, East Jefferson Fire-Rescue, the State Patrol, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, and both air and marine units from the U.S. Coast Guard.

Payne said he called the National Transportation Safety Board to report the incident and to get permission to move the plane because of the tide.

“As soon as it happened, I needed to know where it was,” Payne said. “I quickly hopped in my airplane, spotted it and came back. Then I jumped in the truck and drove to the area.

“When I got there, I saw this thing had hit really hard.”

Hanke said Morrison, who’s also a 747 pilot, has been teaching students to fly at the museum since the museum opened in 2001.

“It’s a sad situation,” Hanke said. “There was nothing anyone could do. I don’t think they had many options.”

The plane crashed in an area about 15 feet wide, Payne said.

“Neil’s only option in that spot was that beach because everything else is woods,” Payne said. “There’s nothing else out there.”

The plane had been flown the week before — twice the previous Sunday — with a teenage volunteer and a flight instructor, Payne said.

All of the planes at the museum have shoulder harnesses built in, he added.

“Shoulder harnesses make all the difference in that type of incident,” Payne said. “It’s the difference between minor injuries and a life-altering event.”

The plane had been registered with the FAA on a restricted classification for agriculture and pest control. Payne said it was used as a crop duster at one time, but it was restored to its original configuration in about 1985.

Both pilots kept certifications up to date, Payne said.

“I’m very interested to know what failed in that engine,” he said. “It’s a testament to Neil’s skills of getting on that beach and everybody walking away.”

Payne praised the property owners for their help and said the plane and all its pieces were removed from the beach and returned to the museum by 8 p.m.

________

Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at bmclean@peninsuladailynews.com.

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