Popular Whidbey flight instructor hurt in San Juan Island plane crash

Oak Harbor resident Bob Fraser piloted a small plane that crashed into trees shortly after takeoff from Roche Harbor Airport Thursday.  - Richard Walker / Journal of the San Juans
Oak Harbor resident Bob Fraser piloted a small plane that crashed into trees shortly after takeoff from Roche Harbor Airport Thursday.
— image credit: Richard Walker / Journal of the San Juans

A well-known Oak Harbor flight instructor piloted a small airplane that inexplicably lost power and crashed on San Juan Island Thursday night.

Bob Fraser, 79, was airlifted to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Bellingham. His wife, Donna Fraser, said he suffered a serious wrist injury that required surgery, but that he’s doing fine otherwise.

“If it hadn’t been for his knowledge and experience, they might not have made it,” she said. “It’s really just a miracle that nobody was hurt any worse.”

Bob Fraser was flying a Cessna 172M, which is owned by the Whidbey Island Navy Flying Club. His wife explained that he had flown a man and a woman to Roche Harbor for sightseeing and lunch on Thursday. But things went wrong as the airplane was taking off from Roche Harbor Airport.

“Something happened with the plane and he couldn’t gain air speed,” Donna Fraser said of how her husband explained it to her. “After about 15 seconds, it hit a down draft at 150 feet, and the plane just went down.”

Donna Fraser said her husband managed to keep the wings level so that the plane didn’t nose dive. It struck trees and crashed at the end of the runway.

“He probably saved three lives, including his own,” she said.

The San Juan Journal reported that the three occupants were able to extricate themselves from the airplane, which landed nose down. The male passenger, who was sitting in the front, suffered facial abrasions and the woman wasn’t injured, Donna Fraser said. The names of the couple haven’t been released.

Bob Fraser managed the John Vanderzicht Memorial Pool in Oak Harbor for 12 years, but he’s best known on North Whidbey as a consummate pilot and flight instructor. He was a Navy pilot for 32 years. He retired in 1980 and started giving flying lessons at the Whidbey Island Navy Flying Club. He has 23,000 hours of flying experience.

The Navy flying club even named the flight instruction program after him in 2006: it’s officially the Bob Fraser School of Flight.

Donna Fraser said she has no doubt that her husband will continue flying once he heals.

“He’s a walking airplane,” she said. “He would rather fly than eat.”

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the accident.

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