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Accident claims Coupeville man

A failed bolt cost a 22-year-old Coupeville man his life Monday.

The accident occurred in Freeland at Nichols Brothers Boat Builders at approximately 2:30 p.m. Crews were attempting to lift a helicopter out of the hold of the X-Craft when a bolt snapped, sending the helo crashing onto William Dayton and two others.

Dayton was close enough to the skids of the unmanned drone when it fell from approximately eight feet in the air that he was crushed and killed, Island County Coroner Robert Bishop said.

“Will just happened to be underneath it enough that it struck his head,” Bishop said.

Dayton was working on the X-Craft Sea Fighter, an experimental craft the yard is building for the Navy. The helicopter was on the elevator inside the hold when crews were removing it to ready the ship for its scheduled launch today.

“They were attempting to extricate a drone helo through the hatch to the flight deck,” Island County Sheriff’s Spokeswoman Jan Smith said. “An eye bolt in the top of the rotor appears to have given way.”

An eye bolt that connected the craft to the cable of a crane gave way, sending the 2,800-pound helo crashing down, Bishop said.

Phone messages left with Nichols Brothers CEO Matt Nichols were not immediately returned.

According to a company press release, the yard was closed Tuesday and grief counselors were on hand to assist employees.

“There is deep sorrow and regret that there were two injuries and one fatality,” the release said. “The boatyard is closed while the investigation ensues.”

Smith said two others were hurt in the accident and were taken to Whidbey General Hospital. No information on their condition was available, she said.

“At this time, there is nothing suspicious in nature,” she said.

The Washington Department of Labor and Industries has opened an investigation and was on the scene throughout the night. The investigation can take up to six months.

Dayton’s father, Ed, said that Dayton had been working at the yard for approximately four months.

“Willie loved it,” Ed said. “It was the first job he had that he went to work every day. He felt real good about it and he felt good about himself.”

Dayton had just moved out on his own at the beginning of January and was living in Clinton.

The public is invited to mourn with the family at Dayton’s service at 2 p.m. Saturday at South Whidbey Assembly of God, 5373 Maxwelton Road in Langley.

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