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Pilot in Mukilteo plane crash would have faced tough choices

The pilot of a single engine Piper Cherokee is being credited with making the best off a bad situation after crash landing on a street in Mukilteo Tuesday afternoon.

Power lines were pulled down, some homes lost power, traffic lights were damaged, and cars and light trucks were dented or lit on fire. But the worst injuries were considered minor by authorities.

The plane took off on the bigger of Paine Field's two active runways, runway 16 Right. It appears the engine lost power after reaching an altitude of 500 to 1,000 feet according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

"The initial indications are that they did everything they possibly could to bring it in safely and not hurt anybody on the ground," said pilot and longtime air safety analyst John Nance, who is currently using a Piper Cherokee as his personal airplane. Nance also spent decades flying airliners.

"Every time you take off in a single engine, you're thinking, 'What if the engine goes?'" Nance said. "You're not going to have a lot of time to say the least if you're going from 200 or 300 or 400 feet to try and restart the engine."

That target appeared to be Harbour Pointe Boulevard.

"You're constantly keeping a mental track on where to put the airplane down if the engine fails," Nance said.

Nance said with no engine power, there are no second chances, no going around for another try. Going for the road he says, is a sign of a veteran pilot.

"One of the most dangerous things a pilot can try to do is in an engine failure situation is turn around and go back to the airfield," said Nance. "In most cases, unless you've got quite a bit of altitude way above 1,000 feet, you're not going to have enough air speed and altitude to be able to make that happen successfully."

Crashes he says are often fatal.

"You look for a place to put it down, and you have to think very rapidly," he said.

The NTSB says the aircraft was recovered last night and is now in a secure warehouse in Auburn.

Investigator In Charge Eliot Simpson says initial pilot and passenger interviews are complete, and major teardowns of the engine should get rolling in the next week or so. The NTSB looks at everything then eliminates things that do not appear to contribute to the accident. Things like weather and air traffic control appear to have no bearing on the accident.

Eventually, investigators reach their finding of a probable cause, often in about a year. Independent experts and the airframe and engine manufacturers are also brought in.

A preliminary report, which normally restates the early facts, usually comes out within a few days of the accident.