Pilot had experience on his side
Man let cabin fill with water and kicked open door to escape from plane.
By Scott De Laruelle
A veteran aviator with 40 years of experience, Paul Thompson had never been in an airplane crash before Thursday. As his plane filled with Lake Wisconsin water, his quick thinking and training as a submariner and scuba diver may have prevented his accident from becoming a tragedy.
Tipped on its back, mostly underneath the waves, water quickly filled the plane’s small cabin. Thompson suffered only minor injuries, though, and was alert enough to plan a quick escape.
Thompson said he was only in the water for about 10 minutes before a passing boater came to his aid and called 911. When he got to shore, Columbia County Sheriff’s Department and Lodi Ambulance personnel were there waiting for him.
Right place, right time
Alerted to the accident by his brother, Steve Johnson, air worthiness inspector at Madison’s Wisconsin Aviation, rushed to the scene. Soon, his helpful comments prompted emergency personnel to put a life jacket on him and get him out to the scene so he could directly supervise salvage efforts.
“I’ve been a volunteer firefighter for a few years, and I thought I’d see what was going on and make a few comments,” Johnson said. “All of a sudden I found myself on a boat.”
Knowing the plane’s construction, his suggestion on where and how to pick the place may have saved the plane from destruction.
“Everyone was pretty amazed we could do that (without wrecking the plane),” Johnson said.
Once he knew his friend was OK, Johnson helped make sure the plane was treated with kid gloves.
“The plane ended up flipping over in deep enough water, and it didn’t hit the bottom,” Johnson said. “The floats kept it buoyant the entire time. We were able to pick it up with one of the cranes and basically pull it in like a caught fish.”
Once the reached shallow water, [Manke Enterprises] were able to put it up the rest of the way and set it upright. The plane was towed away in three pieces – fuselage and the two damaged wings.
Because the damage was minimized at the scene, Johnson said he believes it is salvageable.
“I know he would like to get the plane flying again, and I don’t think it’s going to be that big a job,” Johnson said.
Thompson credited the quick work of salvage personnel [at Manke Enterprises] for his plane’s relatively good condition. “They did a textbook job of getting the plane out (of the water) without damaging it,” Thompson said. “It was really a wonderful effort.”