MUKILTEO — Puffs of what looked like exhaust caught a driver’s attention moments before a plane crashed in front of his car earlier this month in Mukilteo.
The National Transportation Safety Board released a preliminary report looking into what caused a Piper PA-32 Cherokee Six to lose power shortly after takeoff.
The pilot, a man from Klamath Falls in Oregon, had flown to Washington to pick up seats for a company that offers charter and medical flights. On May 2, the pilot was gearing up to leave Paine Field.
He filled the single-engine plane with more than 41 gallons of fuel for the trip back to southern Oregon. He walked around the outside of the plane, checked the equipment inside and ran the engine. No abnormalities were found.
He and a passenger took off around 3:30 p.m.
An air-traffic controller asked the pilot to make a right turn. Other planes were waiting to depart behind him, according to the report. As soon as he started turning, the plane lost power.
They were about 400 feet in the air and were losing altitude.
The pilot checked the engine and the fuel tanks again. He told investigators the equipment seemed to be working correctly.
He started looking for places to land. Swamps and trees were straight ahead. On his right, there was a congested six-lane highway.
However, the westbound lanes on Harbor Pointe Boulevard after the intersection with the Mukilteo Speedway were empty. The pilot prepared to make an emergency landing on the roadway.
On the descent, the plane’s right wing struck a power transmission cable, knocking out power to about 9,000 people. Both wings then hit two traffic light signals, which ruptured the fuel tanks.
Ignited aviation fuel rained on cars that were waiting at the intersection, but there were no injuries.
The plane’s passenger suffered minor injuries. The pilot was not hurt.
The investigation into the exact cause of the crash may take up to six months.
Caitlin Tompkins: 425-339-3192; firstname.lastname@example.org.