Pilot in critical condition after crash landing

By CHRISTIAN KNIGHT

News staff writer

February 18, 2006

Christie Hessler hadn’t hiked the Weldon Wagon Trail near Husum, Wash., for a year and a half.

But for some inexplicable reason, she woke Thursday morning with an urge to do it.

As she was climbing up to the ridge, she heard the roar of a plane and turned to see a bright yellow Cessna 150 taking off from an air strip within a field.

The Acre coffee shop owner then resumed her hike.

Seconds later, she noticed the roar of the plane had muted — completely.

She turned in time to see it crash — nose first — into the the pilot’s own field.

The pilot inside was Bernard Elsner, 64. He survived.

His condition was serious enough, however, that an emergency helicopter had to LifeFlight him from Skyline Hospital in White Salmon to Legacy Emanuel Hospital in Portland.

As of Thursday, he was in critical but stable condition in ICU at Emanuel. with a broken eyesocket, broken cheekbone, bruises on the brain, and possible broken vertebrae.

A professional pilot —

Elsner is a retired Delta pilot, who, two of his friends said, flew the Portland to Tokyo route non-stop when he was still working.

“He’s a good pilot,” said Gene Williams, a 20-year friend and 60-year pilot.

Williams heard about the crash and drove straight to the site.

Judging by the clues — an unbroken propeller and the twisted plane — Williams thinks Elsner had taken off from the air strip on his own property a few hundred yards away and shortly thereafter, his engine quit.

Rather than fly straight and land on the highway or in a ravine, Williams believes Elsner tried to turn into an adjacent field.

He crashed less than a half-mile from his own 9,000-square-foot house.

“He got off the ground, started to make a turn,” Williams said. “His engine quit over here. He probably thought he could make the field.”

Making the call —

After seeing the crash, Hessler first called her friend Brent Foster. Then she called 9-1-1.

Foster, of Mosier, called Greg deBruler and both of them drove up to the property to see how they could help.

They traveled across the field by foot, eventually spotting the plane.

When they reached Elsner, they saw he was in bad condition.

“His body was cocked out of the window,” deBruler said. “His head was laying where the window would have been. He seemed to be supporting himself. My guess was that he tried to get out but didn’t have the strength. His legs were trapped in debris.”

DeBruler noticed gas leaking from the plane. So he disconnected the battery cable and removed it.

Shortly thereafter, the Husum Fire Department and two Skyline Hospital Ambulances arrived.

Elsner was conscious when White Salmon Fire Department used Jaws of Life to remove him from the plane.

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