July 19, 2011

Plane crash survivor in serious condition

Karen Ford, of Waterville, ‘a very important member of our community’ at Colby College

By Scott Monroe smonroe@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

A Waterville woman remained in serious condition at a Lewiston hospital on Monday, a day after the small plane in which she was a passenger lost power and crashed into the ocean off Matinicus Island.

Karen C. Ford, 53, of Waterville, was inside a five-person Cessna 206 that went down about 4:30 p.m. Sunday. Two other passengers were taken to the hospital and the pilot was treated and released.

Known as "KC" to friends and co-workers, Ford has been employed at Colby College in Waterville since 1997, according to college spokeswoman Sally Baker. Ford is currently the associate director of admissions and financial aid at Colby.

"Clearly, she's a very important member of our community and we are hoping for the very best possible outcome," Baker said. "She's wonderful; she's terrific. She and her husband have a lot of connections here."

Ford's husband, Waterville artist Matthew Russ, graduated from Colby College in 1996 with a degree in studio art, according to his website. Russ couldn't be reached for comment Monday.

The Knox County Sheriff's Office is investigating the crash, along with the Coast Guard, the Maine Marine Patrol, Maine State Police, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the National Transportation Safety Board.

In a statement, Chief Deputy Tim Carroll said the aircraft apparently took off from the island's dirt airstrip, climbed about 200 feet, then developed engine trouble and lost power. The plane crashed a few hundred yards offshore.

"The pilot was not able to regain power to climb but made an attempt to level the aircraft in preparation to ditch in the water," Carroll said in the statement. "Approximately 15 seconds after the engine malfunctioned, the aircraft struck the water."

Aided by the injured pilot, Robert Hoffman, 69, of Rangeley, the three passengers were able to get out of the sinking plane and cling to it until people on Matinicus assisted them. In addition to Ford, the passengers were identified as Eva Murray, 47, of Matinicus, and Abagail Read, 56, of Appleton.

The Cessna is owned and operated by Penobscot Island Air Service of Owls Head. Penobscot Island Air chief pilot Roger Wolverton arrived in his plane late Sunday afternoon about 25 minutes after Air Force officials called saying they had received an emergency signal from the downed Cessna.

Wolverton was the first to find the wreckage. He flew low and found the plane's pilot, Hoffman, and three passengers clinging to floating debris. Matinicus fishermen were summoned and retrieved the four from the water.

"Fortunately I found them immediately," Wolverton said. "It was Sunday, so unfortunately there weren't any fishermen around."

At 5:52 p.m. Sunday evening, the Knox County Regional Communications Center was notified that four patients with serious injuries were being taken to the Knox County Regional Airport and to have ambulances standing by, Carroll said. The injured passengers and Hoffman then were flown to the mainland and taken to hospitals. The three passengers remained hospitalized Monday, but Hoffman has been released, Wolverton said.

Late Monday afternoon, Ford still was hospitalized in serious condition at Central Maine Medical Center. Maine Medical Center listed Murray in fair condition and Read in satisfactory condition.

Wolverton said the plane was en route to Owls Head near Rockland and that Hoffman, the pilot, is a retired American Airlines pilot who has worked for Penobscot Island Air Service for four years.

Such a crash, Wolverton said, is "very unusual," and everyone was fortunate to have survived the crash.

"The reliability of those engines is very high," he said. "The pilot did a great job getting on the water so everyone could egress."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Scott Monroe -- 861-9239

smonroe@centralmaine.com

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