NEWPORT, OR (KPTV) – Over the nearly 40 years Dean Sawyer has been flying, he had never experienced a real engine failure – until Monday.
On the same runway he had departed from for decades at the Newport Municipal Airport, Sawyer took off in his 1974 Cessna 172 with two passengers: Debbie Reasoner and her 7-year-old son, Jase.
Sawyer, who is also the Mayor of Newport, told FOX 12 in a phone interview Wednesday that he flew the two over Depoe Bay, where they spotted a whale.
"We just went up to see the sights,” Debbie Reasoner said. “It was beautiful and I took beautiful pictures. And then Dean said he started pulling on these buttons."
ONLY ON 12: I spoke with the pilot & 2 passengers who were inside the small plane that went down near #Newport on Monday. It crashed in sand dunes after a reported engine failure. Pilot (who is also the Mayor) & 1 passenger walked away but other still in hospital. Story at 10. pic.twitter.com/wmzBx518Jc— Tyler Dumont (@TylerDumontNews) July 11, 2019
The 4-seater’s engine started sputtering during their return to the coastal city about a half-hour into their flight, according to Sawyer. While looking for a place for a possible forced landing, he tried to troubleshoot.
“Somewhere in the north part of Newport, the engine started to cut out,” Sawyer said.
The pilot knew the circumstances weren’t good. The emergency happened while they were flying at an altitude of just 1,200 feet – leaving little time and few landing options. The nearest airport was still about 2 miles away.
As his training instincts took over, Sawyer prepared his passengers - and headed for a beach.
“He said hold on real tight buddy, hold on real tight,” Jase said.
The young boy said he leaned forward and held onto his mother.
“He reached up and grabbed my neck and we were both saying ‘I love you, I love you’. And then we crashed,” Reasoner said.
The plane went down in sand dunes near the North Jetty. Photos from the scene show the aircraft was severely damaged.
“When we landed, it was about 60 mph,” Sawyer said. “And I tell people it’s like being in a 60 mph car crash.”
Sawyer, who purchased his plane in 1982, walked away with significant bruising and torn cartilage in his chest.
“I’m very, very sore today. But, I guess that’s to be expected,” he said.
Jase, his 7-year-old passenger who sat in the rear seat, suffered multiple cuts but was otherwise okay. His mom, Debbie, was seriously hurt and had to be taken by Life Flight to the hospital.
“A broken right arm. The humorous is broken. And we're not sure what's wrong with the left foot yet, I can't walk on it,” Reasoner said. "It's just a miracle that we all walked away from it."
The FAA has confirmed they are investigating the cause of the crash.
Sawyer said he remains unsure what went wrong, but credits his training – which taught him to fly the plane all the way until the moment it crashed – for everyone’s survival.
And, he says, his days in the sky are not over.
“You know, I remember my first flight 40-something years ago, when my friend took me up, and I fell in love with the air,” he said. “And I will be back in the air, there’s no doubt about it.”
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