John Bokk, a 75-year-old man from Winthrop, WA, a seasoned private pilot who has been flying since 1964, is grateful to be alive after his burning Cessna 170 engulfed him in flames, and crashed into trees on Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 8:07 a.m. PDT in the mountains of Hungry Ridge, Idaho not far from his cabin, and about 20 miles southeast of Grangeville, ID in rural Idaho County, as reported by Northwest Cable News, KOMO-TV, the Lewiston Morning Tribune, and other news sources on Tuesday, August 30, 2011, and illustrated in the attached slide show.
A video clip of a Cessna 170 aircraft also accompanies this report.
In a telephone call with Michael Chapman of Black Swan Development, who also manages the Hungry Ridge Ranch Airport, a privately owned grass and sod private facility with a 2,248 foot runway located in the Nez Perce National Forest, Chapman thought that Mr. Bokk had probably taken off moments earlier from his own nearby private landing strip.
To learn more details of the incident, Mr. Bokk, who had owned this “taildragger”, an aircraft with conventional, non tricycle landing gear, for 28 years, and had flown it in Alaska on hunting trips, spoke with us in a telephone interview on Wednesday, August 31, 2011 from 12:30 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. PDT.
Pausing to recover from waves of pain, the result of broken bones in his ribs, elbow, toes, and a fractured right ankle, the seasoned pilot patiently answered our questions in this exclusive first hand report. His responses are shown below in bold type.
Mr. Bokk, thank you for this interview opportunity, and for making yourself available to us. How did this accident happen?
“I had just taken off from a private airstrip near my cabin, and had put the aircraft into level flight at about 350 feet, when I heard a popping sound, with loss of control, and a sharp veering off to the right. Flames were everywhere, all around me. I was leaning left to avoid them, as I tried to keep the plane from flipping over.”
Were you able to control the aircraft?
“No, I can’t honestly say that. I did level the wing and keep the aircraft from going nose down or inverting. The next thing I knew, it had collided with trees, broken into four pieces, and came to rest on the ground.”
There were reports that you jumped from the plane while it was still airborne. Is that true?
“No. I don’t know how they got that impression. I immediately tried to get out of the burning cockpit, once the plane had stopped, but my right foot was trapped. I managed to pull it free, leaving the shoe behind. I may have injured my foot in the process.”
What happened after you got out?
“After I left the plane, people at a cabin about 300 feet away came to help, and put out the flames. They called the Idaho County Sheriff’s Dispatch Center, and Deputy Mike Brewster and Fish & Game Officer Roy Kinner eventually arrived. I was badly shaken, and possibly in shock, not totally aware of my injuries. I did realize that I had some burns on my face, and some other bruises, but felt very lucky to be alive.”
Do you have any idea what caused the accident?
“From the direction and intensity of the flames, it appears that a fuel line had ruptured. It was definitely a mechanical failure of some sort.”
Did the aircraft have a special meaning to you?
“Yes, it did. It was like a first love. I don’t know where I’ll be able to find another one like it. I have also flown Cessna 150 and Cessna 172 aircraft, but tricycle landing gear planes are not as much fun as ‘taildragger’. Although they are harder to control on the ground, the difference is like driving a stick shift car, compared with an automatic transmission. There is more of a connection with the aircraft in tail wheel planes.”
I completely understand, sir. Do you hope to fly again?
“I do. I feel very lucky and blessed to have survived this accident. It has made me appreciate every precious moment of time, even with the pain. I’ve been a pilot for almost 50 years. Flying is one of my great passions.”
Thank you very much for taking the time to talk with me. I wish you a speedy recovery and blue skies.
“Thank you for calling, and for your concerns. I’m very glad to have spoken with you.”
The Cessna 170 is a light, single-engine, general aviation aircraft that was produced by the Cessna Aircraft Company between 1948 and 1956. There were 5,174 of the planes built.
The aircraft flown by Mr. Bokk was incorrectly reported elsewhere as a Cessna 180 or a Piper PA-18 Super Cub, both similar in appearance, but was actually a Cessna 170 upgraded with a Cessna 180 engine, a 230 horse power Continental O-470-U. It had a cruising speed of 121 mph, a stall speed of 49 mph, a service ceiling of 15,500 feet, and a rate of climb of 690 feet per minute.
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