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News / Northwest

Pilot says engine failure caused plane crash in Elliott Bay

By Lauren Girgis, The Seattle Times
Published: May 23, 2023, 7:26am

SEATTLE — The pilot whose plane plunged into Elliott Bay a few hundred feet from a pier at the downtown Seattle waterfront on Thursday said the crash was caused by engine failure.

The small Cessna crashed offshore near the Edgewater Hotel. Forty-two-year-old Brendan Ross got out of the plane before boaters rescued him and took him to shore.

The Maple Valley pilot recalled the crash Sunday before heading to Puyallup to fly back into the air with a friend.

“When you’ve been in a crash, one of the most important things to do is get flying again,” Ross said. “It kind of helps keep those mental blocks from setting in. … I would be lying if I said there weren’t a few nerves here and there.”

Before beginning his career as a pilot, Ross was an air traffic controller for six years. In 2009, he spent a month flying every day. If he wasn’t in the air, he was in an airport.

Ross was flying the plane from Florida to Neah Bay to fulfill the flying hours he needs to become an airline pilot. During his return home from Neah Bay, his engine failed.

He didn’t realize there was a problem until about a minute before hitting the water. He went into troubleshooting mode and tried to touch down close to the waterfront, without hitting any boaters or people, because he knew a fire station would be nearby.

“It’s kind of scary in the aftermath,” Ross said. “In the moment, you just keep flying.”

The plane slammed into the water at about 50 mph, causing Ross to hit his face on the flight instrument panel. As water flooded in, Ross pushed the window open so the pressure could equalize and he could open the door.

Ross swam out, holding onto a wing in the chilly water, before boaters came to his aid.

One of those boaters, Thomas Hawthorne, said his friend grabbed Ross’ arm. “Then we kind of all got over to the side of the boat and pulled him into the boat.”

Fuel did not leak from the plane and U.S. Coast Guard responders found no surface pollution in Elliott Bay on Thursday.

The National Transportation Safety Board recovered the wreckage on Saturday, said a spokesperson. It was moved to a facility for examination so investigators can determine the cause of the crash.

Besides some bruises from hitting his face on the panel, Ross said he is OK.

“The outpouring of people who have said kind and supportive things since then has been amazing,” Ross said. “ … [Seattle] is an unbelievable community to live in, where you can feel that caring from people I’ve never even met before.”