Watson Lake pilot walks away from violent crash

John Stubenberg knew there was something terribly wrong with his single-engine Piper floatplane when he noticed the oil temperature gauge skyrocket suddenly.

John Stubenberg knew there was something terribly wrong with his single-engine Piper floatplane when he noticed the oil temperature gauge skyrocket suddenly.

A few seconds later, he heard a loud bang and the cockpit filled with smoke.

“That’s when I got scared,” he said.

The Watson Lake resident miraculously walked out of the wreckage Friday after engine trouble forced him to land in a wooded area near Quartz Lake, approximately 75 kilometres northeast of the town.

Stubenberg and his wife bought a trap line in that area a few years ago and were making repairs to their cabin last week.

After making a trip to Watson Lake and back, he was heading to the community when the plane began acting up.

Just as he was ascending out of Quartz Lake, he noticed the engine was “running very rough.”

After the bang, he turned the aircraft around and headed towards the water.

His windscreen was covered in oil and the propeller wasn’t wind milling, so he knew the engine had seized up.

“That’s when your training kicks in,” he said.

“You pick a spot and you line up for it. I remembered the old bush pilots saying not to head into the dead trees because they end up being like spears. So I aimed for a relatively green clump and just slowed it up as best I could and put it into the trees.”

It was a violent landing. The left wing of his plane hit a tree and, had it been any thicker, it might have spiraled him into the ground.

Fortunately, it broke.

“I was looking at my air speed and I was down to about 60 as I was hitting the tree tops,” he said.

“I pulled the stick back into my gut and the next thing I know, I came to. I don’t think I was out for a very long time. All of a sudden, I’m staring at this huge spruce tree where my windshield used to be.”

Adrenaline and shock set in at that point. Stubenberg couldn’t find his glasses and was being covered in fuel.

He couldn’t tell if he was 13 feet above ground or three, he said.

He reached down, turned off the electrics and found his glasses next to his SPOT device and a can of bug spray.

Thankful to be alive, he let out a chuckle.

“That’s when my appreciation for modern technology kicked in,” he said.

He quickly activated the emergency beacon.

“By the time I crawled out it was 3 p.m. and by 4:15, the Trans North helicopter was already flying overhead. I knew they were probably heading to my cabin because sometimes, if you have a violent landing, the ELTs (emergency locator transmitter) can be set off.”

All planes are equipped with an ELT, which are designed to go off on impact.

Stubenberg knew that his wife, who was back at the cabin, would be wondering and getting worried about a helicopter landing nearby.

He was taken to Watson Lake Hospital, where he was treated for a few minor injuries.

He suffered a dislocated shoulder, broken collarbone, bruised lung, a few cracked ribs and received stitches on his knee.

“Given the circumstances, I’m pretty lucky,” he said.

Stubenberg has been a pilot for 15 years. He’s flown floatplanes for the past ten.

He was told a spun bearing on the crank might have caused the engine trouble.

Given the location of his cabin near Quartz Lake, he plans on getting another plane in the future, pending the results of the insurance investigation.

“We’ll see how this thing goes but hopefully we’ll have enough to buy another one,” he said.

He wanted to thank Nick Falloon, the Trans North helicopter pilot, and Eric Robson, the RCMP officer, who both hiked through a wooded area to find him.

He was also thankful for the care he received from Dr. Quong and the staff at Watson Lake Hospital, as well as the ambulance crew, he said.

Contact Myles Dolphin at myles@yukon-news.com