Pilot of crashed plane still in Harborview's ICU

POULSBO — Kent Curtiss was still listed in critical condition in Harborview Medical Center’s intensive care unit Jan. 22, two days after he called 9-1-1 from his crashed plane in a clearcut field in north Poulsbo.

Harborview spokeswoman Susan Gregg said Curtiss’s family is declining interviews. “They are just focusing on him and not participating in any interviews,” Gregg said, adding that family members are “traumatized” by the crash.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating to determine the cause of the crash.

Available records provide a picture of Curtiss, his experience as a pilot, and the moments before and after the crash.

Curtiss, 70, is a resident of Kent. According to Jamelle Garcia, manager of Auburn Municipal Airport, Curtiss kept his fixed-wing, single-engine airplane — a 1946 Ercoupe 415-C — at the airport. But Garcia said he didn’t know Curtiss, the owner of one of 277 airplanes based at the airport.

According to FAA records available online, Curtiss is certified as a commercial pilot and a flight instructor, with a single-engine airplane rating and an instrument rating. His flight instructor certification expires Jan. 31.

It’s not yet known what time Curtiss took off from Auburn; Garcia said his airport doesn’t have a tower. But Kitsap County Sheriff’s spokesman Scott Wilson said Curtiss didn’t have a specific destination. “He was just having a fly around,” Wilson said.

Tom Jensen of the Washington Pilots Association said Jan. 22 that Curtiss is not a member of the association and that he doesn’t know him. But he’s familiar with the Ercoupe model of airplane.

“It’s a little unique in that it’s simple to fly,” Jensen said. According to one online description, the Ercoupe is flown using only a control wheel. A two-control system links the rudder and aileron systems, which control yaw and roll, with the steerable nose wheel. The control wheel controls the pitch and the steering of the aircraft, both on the ground and in the air. That simplifies control and coordinated turning, and eliminates the need for rudder pedals.

“It’s like driving a car,” Jensen said. “It’s a good little airplane.”

Mark Freiboth was at his sister’s farm on Noll Road midway between Lincoln and Mesford roads when he saw the plane making small turns over an adjacent clearcut area, about 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 20.

“I thought, what a cool little plane,” Freiboth said. “It was flying a little low — it was higher than [nearby] trees, but I could see that it was a neat little silver plane.”

Nobody heard the plane go down in the clearcut owned by A&A Tree Farm.

Kitsap County Central Communications, or CenCom, received a 9-1-1 call at 3:45 p.m. It was Curtiss. “He said, I crashed, I’m upside down, I’m bleeding but I don’t know from where, here are my coordinates based on my cellphone,” Wilson recounted.

It wasn’t immediately clear where exactly the plane crashed. The first unit from Poulsbo Fire Department was at Lincoln and Noll roads at 3:52 p.m. A Kitsap County sheriff’s deputy spotted the crash site at 3:57 p.m. — a tenth of a mile south on Noll, up a long driveway to a farm, through a swath of salal, and over terrain made rough by clearcut logging.

The plane was overturned.

Emergency personnel removed Curtiss from the plane; the engine was cool to the touch, Poulsbo Fire Battalion Chief Jim Gillard said.

Shortly after 4, Curtiss was sitting up, answering questions from medics as they attached a neck brace: Did he remember calling 9-1-1? Did he know how long he had been unconscious? Where did he take off from?

A litter was brought in and Curtiss was carried to an ambulance for transport to Raab Park. Airlift Northwest was called at 4:25 p.m., and a helicopter was on the ground at the park at 4:52 p.m. The helicopter was in the air, with Curtiss onboard, and en route to Harborview at 5:09 p.m.

He was admitted into Harborview’s ICU in critical condition.


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