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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Pilot error likely cause of air crash

Pilot error appears to be the cause of a small plane crash in the mountains west of Bonners Ferry that left one man in critical condition, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Pilot Jacob Bushnell of Porthill, Idaho, was flying a single-engine airplane up a canyon at a low altitude Sunday and was unable to gain altitude fast enough to clear the trees, said Debra Eckrote, an investigator for the NTSB in Seattle.

“The pilot stated he flew up the canyon and didn’t have room to maneuver,” she said on Monday. Eckrote said the pilot did not blame the crash on mechanical failure.

Passenger Scott Miller was listed in critical condition at Kootenai Medical Center on Monday afternoon.

Boundary County Undersheriff Tim Day said Bushnell was knocked unconscious in the crash, which was in heavy timber in the headwaters of Myrtle and Upper Snow creeks near Burton Peak in the Selkirk Mountains.

When Bushnell awoke sometime later, he called 911 on his cell phone. Boundary County dispatch got the call about 1:30 p.m., more than an hour after the plane went down, Day said.

A U.S. Border Patrol helicopter was the first on the scene, which searchers found because Bushnell unrolled a blue canvas panel outside the crash site, according to Day.

“If we had had to bring him out by foot, we’d probably still be bringing him out,” Day said. “The area is exceptionally difficult to move in. It was literally climbing over logs.”

It took search and rescue personnel about an hour to reach the crash site by foot. They carried Miller on a litter about 200 yards to the air ambulance, which was perched with just one skid on a ridge, Day said.

“They couldn’t get both skids on the ground,” Day said. “It was very dangerous.”

Miller’s residence was unknown Monday, but Dave Parker, Bonners Ferry Airport manager, said he thought Miller was visiting Bushnell from out of state.

Bushnell is a young pilot who got his license to fly in January, Parker said. He had rented the plane from Northern Air Inc., which Parker co-owns, for the afternoon.

The plane, a 1978 Cessna 172, is one of four planes owned by Northern Air and is used for pilot-training flights, Parker said. It’s the first one the company has lost in a crash.

“It’s just machinery,” Parker said, expressing his relief when he learned that Miller should survive his injuries, which include several broken bones and possible head injuries.

Parker said Bushnell may have gotten into some difficult winds over the mountains.

“It sounded like he took right off from the airport and headed toward those mountains and got in a situation in the mountains and that was that,” he said. “It was a short flight.”

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