By WARREN CORNWALL
LYNNWOOD — A Seattle pilot narrowly escaped disaster Sunday after threading his failing plane over the crowded Alderwood Mall, through a thicket of street lights and onto a football field, sliding to a halt just feet before reaching a brick building.
The unidentified 38-year-old man walked away unhurt from the red and white single-engine Cessna, which was equipped with pontoons for water landings. No bystanders were injured, though several joggers were circling the track around the field as the plane quietly swooped down about 1 p.m., according to one eyewitness.
"We’re just very thankful to the quick thinking of the pilot that there were no injuries," said Lynnwood police Sgt. Wes Deppa.
The plane had suffered an engine failure because of a "fuel problem," Deppa said. Federal Aviation Administration investigators were called to the scene.
The pilot said he had simply run out of fuel, said Lt. Glen Webster of the Lynnwood Fire Department, who responded to the scene.
The pilot, Webster said, claimed that as one fuel tank ran low, he switched to another one in midair.
"The tank that he switched to didn’t have enough fuel," he said.
Police spokeswoman Trudy Dana declined to release the pilot’s name.
Brad Clark and his 4-year-old son, Michael, were playing with a toy plane on another field at the Lynnwood Athletic Complex just north of 184th Street SW.
"My son says, ‘There’s a real plane, dad,’ " said Clark, who returned later with a camera to document the incident.
Clark said he turned in time to see the plane quietly glide down, bounce off the field and slide across the grass and the running track, before crashing into a chain-link fence and several small trees. The plane lodged there, within feet of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department building.
Several joggers who were on a track surrounding the field quickly reached the plane, he said.
"By the time we got over here, he was already out and laughing about it," Clark said of the pilot.
The plane took off from Boeing Field in Seattle, and the pilot had notified Snohomish County’s Paine Field Airport of the engine troubles shortly before making an emergency landing on the field, Deppa said. He did not know where the plane was bound when the accident happened.
The plane came down less than 200 yards from the street and the north end of the parking lot for Alderwood Mall, which was packed with shoppers and cars.
The pilot picked the field after deciding he couldn’t reach the nearest airport, Deppa said. He said several area pilots had already inspected the crash scene and were struck by the skill needed to cause so little damage.
"With their experience flying float planes, they were extremely impressed," he said.
The plane is registered to a Richard Stockton Rush III of Seattle, according to a database maintained by Landings.com, an Internet site dedicated to aviation information. A woman contacted at Rush’s home declined to comment.
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