Grand Mound Plane Crash Victim Recovering at Harborview


The pilot who made an emergency crash landing in a field near Grand Mound Tuesday remains in serious but stable condition at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, according to his family.

Emergency crews had to extricate James Johnson, 73, of Spanaway, from his early-1950s Cessna 170B after he crashed just before noon on Tuesday. Johnson, who turns 74 in about a month, was alone and flying to the Chehalis-Centralia Airport from Spanaway when his engine lost power near Grand Mound.

His nephew, Bob Stewart, told The Chronicle Wednesday his uncle had surgery on his back Tuesday night but is recovering steadily. He estimates Johnson will remain hospitalized for another week.

Lanette Dyer, of the West Thurston Fire Authority, said Johnson started losing altitude and power during his flight before crashing just before noon. He told officials he was near 2,500 feet and flying over trees when he realized he wasn’t going to get the power back.

Johnson went through all the emergency protocols and decided to down the plane.

“He takes such meticulous care of that plane. None of us can figure out why it lost power,” Stewart said.

Johnson crashed in a field near 216th Avenue at the intersection of Oregon Trail Road off of Old Highway 99 between Rochester and Centralia. The plane was in one piece, though the landing gear was mangled and the plane appeared damaged while resting on its fuselage and a wing.

“That plane is his pride and joy. He lives on an airstrip up there in a fly-in neighborhood where people taxi their planes up to their houses” Stewart said. “He has a shop at his house anyone would kill to have.”

Johnson learned to fly at 18 and fell in love with it, Stewart said. He was a resident avionics expert for Alaska Airlines before he retired. Prior to that, he was a pilot in the U.S. Forest Service flying air tankers during wildfires.

Stewart said Johnson had been in one other plane crash, but he was not injured and the crash wasn’t as severe.

Johnson was conscious and responding to emergency crews after the crash. He had to be extracted from the wreckage and airlifted from Rochester High School to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for treatment. As of Wednesday evening, he was in serious condition in the Intensive Care Unit, according to a Harborview spokesperson.

Bill Fortman, who owns property near where the crash occurred, said he didn't hear it crash but saw the plane when he went to the kitchen for a cup of coffee.

“I called 911, but they were already close by,” he said.

Dyer said Johnson had a lot of body pain and discomfort after the accident, but he was alert.

The Federal Aviation administration will not be responding because it was a single-engine plane with single passenger and there were no fatalities, according to Capt. Greg Elwin of the Thurston County Sheriff's Office.

The Cessna 170 is a common light single-engined general aviation plane. It was manufactured from 1948 until 1956. According to, over 5,000 of the 170s were manufactured and more than half of them are still in use today.