By Robert Mittendorf / The Bellingham Herald
A plane that crashed Monday night in the Chuckanut Mountains above Larrabee State Park, killing the pilot, was being flown from Paine Field in Everett to Bellingham for maintenance, officials said.
Dr. Gary Goldfogel, Whatcom County medical examiner, said the pilot was Don Stanwyck, 61.
Federal officials confirmed Tuesday that the aircraft is a single-engine Mooney M20K with the registration number N123JN.
That aircraft is owned by Flying Llama LLC of Carnation, according to the Federal Aviation Administration website. Stanwyck’s Facebook pages shows that he is affiliated with at least one llama business.
Whatcom County Undersheriff Jeff Parks said the pilot was the only person aboard the four-seat aircraft.
“His cause of death is under continuing investigation and his manner of death is to be certified as ‘accidental,’ ” Goldfogel said Tuesday. “He has pre-existing heart disease that may have created a medical emergency and partial explanation for the crash.”
An official with the National Transportation Safety Board is heading the investigation, and that person hadn’t yet arrived at the scene Tuesday morning, said NTSB spokesman Chris O’Neil.
“We’re in the very early stages of our investigation,” O’Neil said.
Whatcom County authorities said the plane crashed about 8 p.m. Monday near the end of Cleator Road, not far from the Fragrance Lake trailhead, about 9 miles south of Bellingham International Airport.
“U.S. Coast Guard and local first responders began checking on reports of a small plane that had radio contact with air traffic control advising that the plane was going down. Radio contact was lost and the exact location was unknown,” Parks said in a statement.
Bellingham Fire’s fireboat Salish Star joined the initial search, which focused on the waters west of Bellingham between Eliza Island and Governors’ Point, according to emergency radio dispatches.
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter crew found the wreckage in the mountains just east of the initial search area about 9:15 p.m. Monday and guided Bellingham and South Whatcom firefighters and other personnel to the scene, Parks said.
Parks said the wings apparently sheared off as the aircraft descended into a thick forest canopy. Stanwyck’s body was found farther away in debris of the fuselage, he said.
“(The pilot) obviously clipped trees on glide path,” Parks said, citing information from deputies that assisted in the search.
Battalion Chief Mitch Nolze of South Whatcom Fire Authority said the fuselage toppled a tree across Cleator Road. He said firefighters, sheriff’s deputies and other rescue crews covered the steep terrain on foot and didn’t require technical rope skills.
“As far as we could tell, the debris field stretched several hundred feet, if not several hundred yards,” Nolze said, adding the main wreckage started at the top of ridge and stretched downhill.
O’Neil said the NTSB’s investigation could take one to two years, and would focus on the pilot, weather and the condition of the aircraft.
FAA records show that the aircraft’s last certificate issue date was May 23, 2017. It was certified airworthy Feb. 14, 1979.