They heard a pop, saw a plane’s propeller fall off and then they jumped into a truck.
The construction workers found pilot Jim Coombes unharmed and standing next to his stunt plane, which was upside down in a field near Suncrest, northwest of Spokane in Stevens County.
“When he hit the ground, we thought he was gone,” said Bryan Anderson.
“We all jumped in the truck and headed down here,” said Dwayne Radtke. “We walked up to him and asked how he was. He said he was fine. He seemed to be more worried about his plane.”
A caller alerted firefighters and ambulance crews to the downed plane about 5:40 p.m. Unsure of where the plane crashed, they gathered about a mile north of the field.
Anderson, Radtke, Coombes and a couple of other construction workers pulled the plane 400 yards from the field where it crashed to the west side of state Highway 291.
Meanwhile, a Washington State Patrol trooper spotted the men and the plane alongside the highway. Then, ambulances, fire crews and news reporters rushed to the scene.
“You might want to touch this guy,” said Dave Phillips, fire chief of Stevens County Fire District 1, putting his own hand on Coombes’ arm. “He’s pretty lucky.”
Coombes said he flies professionally in air shows around the world and regularly practices near his Suncrest home.
When he realized his propeller had broken, Coombes didn’t lose his calm.
He thought about trying to land on Highway 291 until he spotted the field.
“Fortunately, this little strip was here,” he said.
The plane, a Pitts Special worth more than $100,000, was a total loss, Coombes said.
The men attached a tow line from the plane to a truck and pushed it east across Highway 291, then down a dirt path to Radtke’s home for the night.
Radtke said he and the other workers were building a shop near his home when they spotted the plane.
“Every summer, we watch him flying around,” he said. “We watched him go up like he always does.”
But this time, as the plane turned going higher and higher, the men heard a pop, saw the propeller break and watched the plane head downward.
The crash didn’t scare Coombes, who still hopes to fly the air show circuit this spring.
“If I can borrow a plane, I’ll still make it,” he said.