Plane crash survivor improves in Seattle

The seriously injured survivor of a Lynn Canal plane crash is rapidly recovering in Seattle, her family said Tuesday, as the National Transportation Safety Board investigation into the cause of the crash continues.

On Tuesday, Sylvia Hess, sister of Martha Mackowiak, said Mackowiak could be released from the intensive-care unit of Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center as soon as that day.

Michael Mackowiak was the pilot of the Cessna 180 that crashed into Lynn Canal near Eldred Rock on Nov. 4. He said the other people on board — himself and two juveniles — are doing well.

“Other than saying ‘That’s just way too close,’ we’re doing pretty good,” he said by phone from Harborview, where he is monitoring Martha’s care.

“I grew up in Alaska and have been in small airplanes all my life,” he said. “I’ve never been in this.”

One week ago, Mackowiak was flying from Juneau to Haines when the motor of the single-engine Cessna lost power.

According to the preliminary accident report completed by the NTSB on Monday, Mackowiak noticed the Cessna’s fuel gauges were operating incorrectly as the plane flew past Eagle Beach.

He told investigators he had filled the plane’s wing-mounted fuel tanks before takeoff, but the gauges showed empty on both tanks. As he tapped the gauges, the right tank increased between 1/4 and 3/8 full.

“Convinced of an electrical malfunction, the flight continued towards Haines,” the NTSB report states. “Shortly thereafter, the engine lost all power.”

Mackowiak tried pumping the engine primer — which injects fuel directly into the engine’s cylinders — but while the propeller’s speed increased, the engine didn’t fully start.

He started searching for a safe place to land, but the beaches near Eldred Rock are stony, and he elected to ditch in the water just offshore. As the plane descended, Mackowiak’s mayday calls were picked up by a passing Alaska Seaplanes aircraft, which passed the message to Juneau.

During the ditching, the airplane nosed over, ending upside-down in the water. Mackowkiak’s foot was briefly caught in the airplane, but he and the plane’s passengers made it onto the plane’s wing before it began to sink.

They were in the water for 10 or 15 minutes before reaching shore, the NTSB investigation found.

A Temsco helicopter pulled all four from the beach and delivered three to the airport, where they were subsequently taken to Bartlett Regional Hospital. Martha Mackowiak, the most seriously injured, was taken directly to the hospital and subsequently medevaced to Seattle.

In an email, Michael Mackowiak said Martha’s heart stopped during the ordeal and everyone suffered cuts and scratches. “I ended up with a little bit of frostbite on my right foot” after losing a shoe, he said.

In an email, he said he wanted to thank everyone involved in the rescue — medical teams at Bartlett and Harborview, the firefighters who performed CPR on Martha, and the helicopter crews involved.

“We are overwhelmed with the exceeding kindness and compassion our friends have shown us,” he wrote.

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