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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

In a Feb. 17 statement, the City of Whitehorse announced it had adopted the what3words location technology used for emergency response. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Three words could make all the difference in an emergency

City of Whitehorse announced it had adopted the what3words location technology

Jesse Whelen, Blood Ties Four Directions harm reduction councillor, demonstrates how the organization tests for fentanyl in drugs in Whitehorse on May 12, 2020. The Yukon Coroner’s Service has confirmed three drug overdose deaths and one probable overdose death since mid-January. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Three overdose deaths caused by “varying levels of cocaine and fentanyl,” coroner says

Heather Jones says overdoses continue to take lives at an “alarming rate”

Wyatt's World for Feb. 24, 2021.
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for Feb. 24, 2021.

Approximately 30 Yukoners protest for justice outside the Whitehorse courthouse on Feb. 22, while a preliminary assault hearing takes place inside. The Whitehorse rally took place after the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society, based in Watson Lake, put out a call to action over the weekend. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Courthouse rally denounces violence against Indigenous women

The Whitehorse rally took place after the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society put out a call to action

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

David Malcolm, 40, has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm a police officer after an incident in Whitehorse on Feb. 18.	(Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man resists arrest, assaults officer

A Whitehorse man has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm… Continue reading

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

The Yukon government and the Yukon First Nations Chamber of Commerce have signed a letter of understanding under the territory’s new procurement policy. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
First Nation business registry planned under new procurement system

Letter of understanding signals plans to develop registry, boost procurement opportunities

US Consul General Brent Hardt during a wreath-laying ceremony at Peace Arch State Park in September 2020. Hardt said the two federal governments have been working closely on the issue of appropriate border measures during the pandemic. (John Kageorge photo)
New U.S. consul general says countries working closely on COVID-19 border

“I mean, the goal, obviously, is for both countries to get ahead of this pandemic.”

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Start of spring sitting announced

The Yukon legislature is set to resume for the spring sitting on… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Most Read