TRENTON — A Bar Harbor man escaped injury early Friday morning when his private airplane crashed into the shallow waters of the Mount Desert Narrows near Bar Harbor Airport.
John “Budd” Hodgkins, 79, said he was returning to the Trenton airport just before 8 a.m. when his 1948 Taylorcraft plane ran out of gas and crashed in the water near a fishing boat.
“That was a real new experience,” said Hodgkins, who has been flying for seven years. “You don’t have time to get scared. You just know you’re going down. I don’t know how close I came to that boat, but it was damn close.”
The plane crashed into about 5 feet of water about 350 yards from the shore, according to Ensign Matt Buckingham of the U.S. Coast Guard. As the plane began to sink, Hodgkins waited for enough ocean water to flow into the plane to equalize water pressure on the outside of the plane, he said. He then opened the door and swam out of the cockpit.
“I didn’t think I was going to make it, but I did,” Hodgkins said. “I was lucky.”
Brent Bradford of Cumberland Foreside, a crew member on the fishing boat St. George, called the Coast Guard and picked up Hodgkins, who was holding onto the wing of the aircraft. A Coast Guard search and rescue vessel from Southwest Harbor responded to the report of the crash and transferred Hodgkins to a waiting ambulance, according to Buckingham.
Hodgkins refused to let ambulance attendants check him for injuries, according to Sgt. Jim Willis of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department. Hodgkins, who also owns another small plane that is housed at the Bar Harbor Airport, said he felt fine after changing into dry clothes.
“My daughter called the doctor and she said I’m supposed to go in and see him today,” Hodgkins said while he watched his blue and white plane slowly appear above the surface as it was towed by a jeep from a local air charter service. “I just saw him yesterday.”
Hodgkins sat in the cab of his old Ford truck and watched crews tow his single-engine plane from the ocean and onto the boat ramp near the airport. He said he had flown the plane around Mount Desert Island earlier in the morning, but on his approach back to the airport, knew something was wrong.
“I thought I was losing my hearing,” he said. “I listened for the engines but I couldn’t hear them. I got it started two or three times while I was gliding in, but they just quit after that.”
The tide was coming in at the time of the crash, and within a matter of hours, the plane was submerged.
Area fishermen and officals from Acadia Air, a charter service, salvaged the plane, which was pulled out around noon. Airport Director Bob Cossette said he notified the Federal Aviation Administration, which would investigate the crash. An FAA representative could not be reached for comment Friday.
Depending on the extent of the damage, Hodgkins said he likely would restore the plane, which only recently had been reconditioned.