A World War II-era U.S. Navy plane crashed Wednesday near Buckley, killing the pilot and passenger who were friends and who had recently exchanged ownership of the craft.
The men were James Robert Cawley, 62, and Rodney John Richardson, 72, the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office said.
Pierce County sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said the men both lived in the Buckley area.
The plane — a 1946, single-wing Navy trainer known as a Texan — crashed about 3:30 p.m. into a heavily wooded area near the 9200 block of 258th Avenue East. It crashed shortly after taking off from a private airstrip between Buckley and Bonney Lake at 112th Street East and 254th Avenue East, Troyer said. One of the men lived on the airstrip, where the plane was kept.
Witnesses saw the two-person plane flying low to the ground and sputtering before the crash. They said the plane had turned around and was heading back toward the airstrip but didn’t make it, Troyer said.
Both men were wearing parachutes, but the plane was too low to the ground to use them. They died instantly in the crash.
Maury Richard, 50, said he was jogging nearby when he saw the plane and heard it crash. He sprinted to the site with other people in the area to try to help. They instantly knew there was nothing they could do, he said.
“There was no way anyone was going to live through that,” he said, describing parts of the aircraft scattered everywhere, and the canopy ripped from the plane.
It sounded as if the plane might have run out of fuel, or had electrical problems, said Richard, a former Army aircraft mechanic.
“The engine was cutting out really bad,” he said. “It was surging. It would go off and come on and go out. It’s not usually one thing that kills you, it’s usually several things,” he said of airplane crashes.
Buckley Police Chief Jim Arsanto said he was one of the people who saw the plane go down and called 911.
The aircraft was “very obviously having engine trouble” just before it crashed, he said.
After the engine cut out, Richard said he heard the pilot hit the trees.
“I was just hoping that he would get it going,” he said.
The Federal Aviation Administration said the plane was a North American AT-6C. It was painted in authentic World War II colors, Troyer said
“This was a well-known plane in the area,” he added.
Friends and family told law enforcement about the recent exchange of owernship of the plane between the friends, Troyer said.
Investigating what caused the crash likely will take many weeks or months, FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer said. The National Transportation Safety Board will do that investigation.
Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268