Pilot killed as airplane crashes on Ebey’s Bluff; Pilot identified

A man was killed Thursday when the small aircraft he was piloting crashed into a bluff on Whidbey Island.

Authorities identified the pilot late Friday as Michael Heaton Sr., 59, a six-month resident of Whidbey Island.

The crash occurred on Central Whidbey at Ebey’s Bluff, between Perego’s Lake and the parking lot at the northern end of Hill Road, at about 4 p.m. The area is a popular spot for hiking and bird watching.

First responders, including police and firefighters, arrived to find the aircraft engulfed in flames about one-third of the way from the top of the bluff. The blaze burned unchecked for about 30 minutes before being extinguished.

Kimberly Martin, public affairs officer for Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, confirmed the plane is a Whidbey Island Navy Flying Club aircraft and had been checked out by a member of the Civil Air Patrol.

Coupeville resident Linda Wandro was sitting in her car at the beach and saw the accident happen. She said the plane was flying low and was clearly in trouble as the pilot appeared to be trying to land in the fields above the bluff.

She watched in horror as the plane collided with the hillside and burst into flames. Jumping out of her car, she began running up the bluff toward the accident but quickly realized there was little she could do.

“I just got down on my knees and said the Lord’s Prayer,” Wandro said.

While on the trail, she said she met a man who also witnessed the crash. According to Wandro, the man said he was a pilot and reported that the plane’s engines did not appear to be operating before the crash.

Another man, who asked to remain anonymous but identified himself as a flight instructor, said the aircraft appeared to be a Piper, which was later confirmed by Martin. He said he saw the smoke while driving on a nearby road and came to see if he could help.

“I ran down here thinking someone may have been able to crawl out,” he said.

He arrived to find the plane partially intact --- its wings were still attached  --- but on fire. The aircraft’s orientation on the bluff indicated that it did not hit the bluff head on and the flames make it unlikely that the aircraft was out of fuel, he said.

“There’s no way he’d be out of gas and burning like that,” the man said.

Island County Coroner Robert Bishop said Heaton’s cause of death was blunt force trauma. He notified Heaton’s family members of the tragedy Friday.

According to the coroner, Heaton was a 30-year resident of Sammamish, but has been living with a friend on Whidbey for the last six months.

Martin said that officials from the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration were investigating the crash site. The cause of the crash has yet to be determined.


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