Pictured above is a small plane in front of a big mountain. The plane is on a runway at Pierce County Airport (also known as Thun Field), sitting about an hour’s drive south of Seattle, Washington and about half that from Tacoma. The mountain is Mount Rainer, situated another hour or so southeast of Thun Field. It — the mountain, not the plane — is the highest point in the state and the most topologically prominent mountain in the United States outside of Alaska, so it’s safe to say that it’s a pretty cool thing to look at. For Thun Field, the mountain is a selling point — the photo above comes from the airport’s website, which notes that “with Mt. Rainier only 25 miles to the southeast, Thun Field offers spectacular scenery from both the ground and the air. Pilots and aviation enthusiasts alike appreciate the location, the facilities, and the beautiful views of Thun Field.”
But if you were flying around Thun Field in early 2009, you would have seen more than just the mountain. You also would have seen a lot of portable toilets. And for one pilot, that was a very good thing.
Thun Field doesn’t get a lot of use, at least not compared to airports you’ve already heard of. Commercial air traffic isn’t allowed at all and flights often have few if any passengers. The airport sees about 100,000 takeoffs and landings in a typical year; by comparison, nearby Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has more than 1,000 flights in a single day, serving nearly 150,000 passengers. To a large degree, Thun Field serves amateur pilots and hobbyists.
In May of 2009, one such pilot took off in a Cessna 182 to destinations unknown — perhaps he was just going to do a loop to gaze at Mount Rainer from a higher vantage point, or maybe he was on his way to a similarly small airport somewhere relatively close. Either way, he didn’t get very far. As the local sheriff’s office told the Associated Press,” the plane was about 150 feet in the air when the engine quit.” He tried to turn around but to no avail. On his descent, per the AP, “the plane hit a fence” and then ‘flipped over.”
In most cases, that would have spelled doom for the plane and the pilot alike, but in this case, the pilot lucked out. Here’s a screenshot from some AP footage (full video here, and no, there’s no audio) showing where the plane landed.
The red arrow (which I added to the screenshot) is where the plane landed. And under it and to the left are a bunch of portable toilets. Northwest Cascade, a company that provides port-o-potties to local homes and businesses, was storing their not-in-use (and hopefully not occupied) rent-a-loos in a similarly vacant lot next to the airport, and as luck (?) would have it, the plane crashed on the edge of the mobile outhouses.
The plane was wrecked — you can see a piece that broke off, just under the tailfin — but the pilot was fine. Per the BBC, a Northwest Cascade spokesperson “said the toilets had ‘kind of cushioned things,'” and the 67-year-old pilot was able to walk away from the accident without injury. (But he probably needed a shower.)
From the Archives: Flipping the Bird: Another upside-down plane. No toilets or volcanoes, though.