BAR HARBOR — The pilot of a biplane and his two passengers were taken to Mount Desert Island Hospital in ambulances after the plane went down in a marsh near MDI High School Saturday morning, but their injuries were reported to be minor.
A reason for the crash has not been determined, but people in the area reported hearing the plane’s engine cut out as it flew over Somes Sound and seeing the plane go down into the trees.
Federal Aviation Administration inspector Jim Edwards interviewed the pilot of the biplane Monday, as well as the owner of the plane and tour company, Trenton-based Acadia Air Tours. Names of the pilot and passengers have not been released.
The plane has a 1930s-style open-cockpit design, but it was built in 1997. Its normal cruising altitude is 2,000 feet.
Edwards and Acadia Air Tours have both credited the pilot for quick thinking and a skillful landing that avoided serious injury.
“He was about 15 minutes into the flight when he had a problem,” Edwards said. “He did a fine job, given the choices he had. He had to put it down in the marsh.”
The Bar Harbor police and fire departments received word of the crash at 10:47 a.m., according to a statement from Bar Harbor Fire Chief Matthew Bartlett, and the agencies began a search for the three people.
“The search team located the downed plane and occupants quickly with assistance from a Maine Forest Service helicopter” crew, Bartlett said. The plane had come to rest upside down in a marsh along Kittredge Brook, on land that’s owned by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust.
“The three occupants of the plane were walked out to waiting ambulances” from the Bar Harbor Fire Department and Northeast Harbor Ambulance Service. The plane’s location is close to a hiking trail in Kittredge Brook Preserve, which is accessible from the high school’s athletic fields, but the rescuers and crash survivors had to wade through thigh-high water in the marsh to reach the trail.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will review photos of the damaged plane, Edwards said, in what’s known as a “desk audit,” since there were no major injuries.
If there’s substantial damage, such as a bent or damaged wing or frame, or damage to the flight controls, the event will be classified as an “accident” and the NTSB will lead the investigation and any follow-up.
If they determine the damage is minor, it will be an “incident” and the FAA will take over the investigation and next steps.
In either case, Edwards said, the agencies are expected to give the go-ahead soon for the insurance company to remove the plane from the marsh.
In their initial report, the Maine Forest Rangers did not note any oil sheen on the surface of the water around the plane, according to Edwards, so the Maine Department of Environmental Protection did not ask for oil-absorbent booms or other equipment to be used.
Kittredge Brook Preserve is owned by Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT).
Doug McMullin, regional stewardship manager for MCHT, said the organization has been in touch with the town, DEP and Acadia Air Tours to offer any needed assistance.
“I have been to the site a couple of times, at a safe distance, and there is no evidence of any fuel or oil leaking, so it appears to be stable,” he said.
The fuel capacity of the biplane is only about 40 gallons, Edwards said, and because the flight was nearly over at the time of the accident, there’s not expected to be much fuel still in the tank.
The Maine Warden Service, Maine State Police, Hancock County Emergency Management Agency and Acadia National Park assisted, Bartlett said.