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

More in Northwest

FILE - Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, poses for a photo in Issaquah, Wash., Oct. 24, 2016. Sen. Mullet launched a campaign for governor on Thursday, June 1, 2023 joining a growing field of candidates seeking to replace outgoing Gov. Jay Inslee. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, file)
Washington state Sen. Mark Mullet announces governor run

He joins a growing field of candidates seeking to replace outgoing Gov. Jay Inslee.

King County map logo
Judge orders Washington AG’s office, DSHS to pay more for evidence withholding

A judge imposed the new costs in a ruling Friday. The amount is on top of an earlier $200,000 sanction.

Gov. Jay Inslee signs Senate Bill 5536 concerning controlled substances on Tuesday, May 16, 2023, in Olympia, Wash. Behind him are from left to right: Rep. Roger Goodman, D- Kirkland, Rep. Jamila Taylor, D-Federal Way, House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, June Robinson, D-Everett, an identified woman and Andy Billig, D-Spokane. The policy, approved by Washinton lawmakers and signed by Inslee, keeps controlled substances illegal while boosting resources to help those struggling with addiction.  (Karen Ducey/The Seattle Times via AP)
New Washington law keeps drugs illegal, boosts resources for housing and treatment

Gov. Jay Inslee quickly signed a major new drug policy Tuesday that keeps controlled substances illegal.

FILE - Patients line up to pick up medication for opioid addiction at a clinic in Olympia, Wash., on March 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Washington lawmakers reach deal on drug policy, avoid automatic decriminalization

Lawmakers will consider the compromise Tuesday when they return to Olympia for a special session.

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz watches as a team works to remove old toxic pilings from the water as part of larger salmon restoration plan near Ebey Waterfront Park in Marysville, Washington on Friday, Feb. 10, 2023.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Washington Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz announces run for governor

Gov. Jay Inslee announced on May 1 that he would not seek a fourth term.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signs bills at the Washington State Capitol, Tuesday, May 9, 2023, in Olympia, Wash. One of those bills was Senate Bill 5599, which was designed to protect young people seeking reproductive health services or gender-affirming care. (AP Photo/Ed Komenda)
Trans minors protected from parents under Washington law

Minors seeking gender-affirming care in Washington will be protected from the intervention of estranged parents under a new law.

The remains of Hurricane Ridge Day Lodge were to be examined by fire investigators. (National Park Service)
Fire investigators arrive to examine remains of Hurricane Ridge lodge

No fire suppression equipment was in structure; contents had been removed

FILE - A Boeing 737 Max jet prepares to land at Boeing Field following a test flight in Seattle, Sept. 30, 2020. Boeing said Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, that it took more than 200 net orders for passenger airplanes in December and finished 2022 with its best year since 2018, which was before two deadly crashes involving its 737 Max jet and a pandemic that choked off demand for new planes. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Boeing inks deal for up to 300 737 Max planes with Ryanair

At Boeing’s list prices, the deal would be worth more than $40 billion if Ryanair exercises all the options.

Logo for news use, for stories regarding Washington state government — Olympia, the Legislature and state agencies. No caption necessary. 20220331
Gov. Inslee signs law allowing duplexes, fourplexes

Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday signed a law legalizing duplexes and fourplexes in most neighborhoods in nearly every city in Washington.

The only dinosaur discovered in Washington state was discovered by paleontologists who found a portion of a left femur of a therapod dinosaur at Sucia Island state park in the San Juan Islands. While scientists are unsure exactly what type of therapod the fossil belongs to, evidence suggests it is a Daspletosaurus. The dinosaur has been nicknamed
Suciasaurus rex. This image shows a Daspletosaurus torosus restoration. (Wikipedia)
Suciasaurus rex named Washington state’s official dinosaur

Gov. Jay Inslee has signed a bill designating the Suciasaurus rex as the official dinosaur of the state.

FILE - Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio rallies in Portland, Ore., on Aug. 17, 2019. Tarrio and three other members of the far-right extremist group have been convicted of a plot to attack the U.S. Capitol in a desperate bid to keep Donald Trump in power after Trump lost the 2020 presidential election.  (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)
Proud Boys’ Tarrio guilty of Jan. 6 seditious conspiracy

Enrique Tarrio and three other members of the far-right extremist group were convicted Thursday of a plot to attack the U.S. Capitol.

Logo for news use, for stories regarding Washington state government — Olympia, the Legislature and state agencies. No caption necessary. 20220331
Washington AG’s office, DSHS fined for evidence withholding

The $200,000 fine is for what a judge called “egregious” and “cavalier” withholding of evidence in an ongoing lawsuit.