Pilot killed in Whidbey Island plane crash loved aviation from a young age

Jason Winters, a longtime commercial pilot, died after a plane he was flying crashed near Whidbey Island.

Logo for news use featuring Whidbey Island in Island County, Washington. 220118

By Lauren Rosenblatt / The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — Jason Winters, a longtime commercial pilot who had loved aviation since he helped wash and load seaplanes as a high schooler in Manson, Chelan County, died after a plane he was flying crashed near Whidbey Island Sunday.

Officials have not released details about the cause or circumstances of the crash and the National Transportation Safety Board is conducting an investigation.

The plane, owned and operated by a local charter service, was traveling from Friday Harbor to Renton when it crashed near Whidbey Island Sunday around 3 p.m. A woman’s body was recovered shortly after by the first crews to respond. Around midday Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard suspended rescue efforts for the other nine missing people.

Officials on Tuesday morning released the identities of all 10 people on board, including a retired teacher, a 29-year-old attorney, an entrepreneur from San Diego, a couple from Minnesota and a civil rights activist from Spokane. A Washington vintner, his wife and their 22-month-old son were also among the victims.

Winters, the pilot, was 43. He is survived by his wife and three children.

“Jason was a loving father, partner to his spouse and friend to many,” Winters’ family wrote in a statement to The Seattle Times through a longtime family friend, Conor Davis. “We are devastated by the sudden and tragic passing of his life and all those on board.”

“He was a skilled pilot, with decades of experience. Like all of those impacted, we’re desperately awaiting any answers as to what caused this tragedy,” the statement said.

On Sunday, Winters did not report trouble or issue a mayday, officials said. The plane just disappeared from flight-control radar screens.

The plane, a de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Turbine Otter, was owned by the charter service Northwest Seaplanes and operated by Friday Harbor Seaplanes. “The team at Northwest Seaplanes is heartbroken,” the company said in a statement. “We have been in communication with the families. We are praying for the families involved, including our pilot and his family.”

As a high school student in Manson, Winters started working for Chelan Seaplanes — another charter service that is now a part of Northwest Seaplanes — mostly for something to do, said Ryan Miller, a family friend who was his former classmate and roommate. At first, he helped with odd jobs, like washing and fueling the planes and loading the bags. He later started taking lessons to learn to fly himself.

When he was flying, he was a completely different person, Miller said. No joking, barely any smiling.

After flying with Winters numerous times, Miller has told people if he is ever “going into a bad situation or bad weather, whether it’s driving a car or plane or boat, I’d want [Winters] behind the wheel.”

“Everybody remembers Jason,” Miller said Tuesday. “He was just full of life, funny, fun to be around.”

Winters, Miller and Davis later moved near Modesto, California, where Winters and Davis partnered on a recycled wood and scrap metal business. After deciding he wanted to pursue a career in aviation full time, Winters and his family moved back to Manson where he took float plane lessons and got his commercial pilot license. But the group of high school friends stayed in touch and remained tight-knit, Miller said.

At work, Jason was stoic, focused and mostly quiet, Davis said. But as soon as he clocked out, he was laughing and joking.

He was organized, practical and a sounding board for big decisions as the two friends grew up. When Davis asked his friend a question about installing a water system, Winters responded he should go with the 6 inch instead of the 4 inch, putting in the extra money now, to save the labor later.

When visiting the docks that the group of friends would frequent to fish and boat, Davis said he could always tell when Winters had been there first. “Everything will be in perfect order, neat and clean,” he said. “Any weird thing that might have been wrong would have been fixed,” without Winters ever even mentioning the work.

The friends also chipped in to buy a plane and Davis estimated they flew more than 4,000 miles together. If Winters didn’t think the landing would be perfect, he’d circle and try again, Davis said.

Outside of flying, Winters was still often on the move — sometimes in a boat, sometimes on a snowmobile. He’d keep his kids active, too, working in the yard, watching football or cheering on the sidelines of his daughter’s volleyball games or son’s golf tournaments.

Since the crash, Davis said his phone has been buzzing nonstop with texts and calls from friends of Winters, some people Davis never knew himself.

“You don’t know what you have until it’s gone,” Davis said. “No one that ever met him forgot him.”

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Northwest

Alaska Airlines aircraft sit in the airline's hangar at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, in SeaTac, Wash. Boeing has acknowledged in a letter to Congress that it cannot find records for work done on a door panel that blew out on an Alaska Airlines flight over Oregon two months ago. Ziad Ojakli, Boeing executive vice president and chief government lobbyist, wrote to Sen. Maria Cantwell on Friday, March 8 saying, “We have looked extensively and have not found any such documentation.” (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)
FBI tells passengers on 737 flight they might be crime victims

Passengers received letters this week from a victim specialist from the federal agency’s Seattle office.

Skylar Meade (left) and Nicholas Umphenour.
Idaho prison gang member and accomplice caught after ambush

Pair may have killed 2 while on the run, police say. Three police officers were hospitalized with gunshot wounds after the attack at a Boise hospital.

Barbara Peraza-Garcia holds her 2-year-old daughter, Frailys, while her partner Franklin Peraza sits on their bed in their 'micro apartment' in Seattle on Monday, March 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Manuel Valdes)
Micro-apartments are back after nearly a century, as need for affordable housing soars

Boarding houses that rented single rooms to low-income, blue-collar or temporary workers were prevalent across the U.S. in the early 1900s.

Teen blamed for crash that kills woman, 3 children in Renton

Four people were hospitalized, including three with life-threatening injuries. The teenage driver said to be at fault is under guard at a hospital.

Snow is visible along the top of Mount Pilchuck from bank of the Snohomish River on Wednesday, May 10, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Washington issues statewide drought declaration, including Snohomish County

Drought is declared when there is less than 75% of normal water supply and “there is the risk of undue hardship.”

Dave Calhoun, center, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on Jan. 24. (Samuel Corum / Bloomberg)
Boeing fired lobbying firm that helped it navigate 737 Max crashes

Amid congressional hearings on Boeing’s “broken safety culture,” the company has severed ties with one of D.C.’s most powerful firms.

Rosario Resort and Spa on Orcas Island (Photo provided by Empower Investing)
Orcas Island’s storied Rosario Resort finds a local owner

Founded by an Orcas Island resident, Empower Investing plans” dramatic renovations” to restore the historic resort.

People fill up various water jug and containers at the artesian well on 164th Street on Monday, April 2, 2018 in Lynnwood, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Washington will move to tougher limits on ‘forever chemicals’ in water

The federal EPA finalized the rules Wednesday. The state established a program targeting the hazardous chemicals in drinking water in 2021.

Everett
State: Contractor got workers off Craigslist to remove asbestos in Everett

Great North West Painting is appealing the violations and $134,500 fine levied by the state Department of Labor Industries.

Riley Wong, 7, shows his pen pal, Smudge, the picture he drew for her in addition to his letter at Pasado's Safe Haven on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021 in Monroe, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Snohomish County organization rescues neglected llamas in Yakima County

Pasado’s Safe Haven planned to provide ongoing medical care and rehabilitation to four llamas in its care at its sanctuary.

Whidbey cop accused of rape quits job after internal inquiry

The report was unsparing in its allegations against John Nieder, who is set to go to trial May 6 in Skagit County Superior Court on two counts of rape in the second degree.

LA man was child rape suspect who faked his death

Coroner’s probe reveals the Los Angeles maintenance man was a Bremerton rape suspect believed to have jumped off the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.