J-3 Cub Strikes Kayaker After Takeoff From Oregon Gravel Bar


With the growing popularity of backcountry flying and short takeoff and land (STOL) competitions, landing on mid-river gravel bars has become a popular activity. High-lift devices, specialized engines and props, and oversize tires make the practice relatively safe, and lots of fun.

But gravel-bar flying received an unwelcome black eye last week when a Piper J-3 Cub taking off struck a 42-year-old woman on a kayak near the Lower Lambert Bar of the Willamette River. The woman received serious but reportedly non-life-threatening injuries to her head and leg. The woman’s mother was with her daughter aboard another kayak and was uninjured. In photos from the Yamhill County Sheriff’s Office, the bright green plastic kayak appears only slightly damaged.

The pilot immediately returned to the scene of the accident and is cooperating with the investigation, according to the Sheriff’s Department. The 69-year-old local pilot has some 6,500 hours logged and told local news sources he had operated from the same gravel bar “at least 50 times.”

The 1946 Cub, which was upgraded to an 85-HP Continental engine from its original 65-HP engine, has oversized tires and is registered to an air park about 15 NM from the site of the accident, though it is not listed on the park’s website as among the aircraft it has for rent. The air park declined to comment on the accident.

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Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. So sorry to hear this.

    Hope everyone is ok soon and I feel almost as bad for the pilot as I feel for the victim. He must feel so terrible.

    Even though I fly a Maule the risk/benefit ratio is not there for me to do anything more extreme than grass or dirt strips. Maybe an occasional dirt road or whatever. It’s fun but unless someones life is in danger or I’m getting paid for it which I never would be I’ll just pass on the excitement and keep myself and my airplane whole.

  2. Neither Judge nor a Jury I be …. but an aircraft on a river bar is fairly obvious. One on a river bar with its engine ran up for a pretty high performance takeoff is quite noisey…especially when close. Would that be obvious to a person in a kayak a few yards away? One would assume so. Was that proximity foolish…without doubt as the outcome shows….
    But…a pilot should always do pre-roll (brake release) checks. Always, hell I near got a kangaroo once rushing, know others that have.
    There is fault on both sides…but…

        • Nope, the pilot of the motorized vehicle had to give way. He became a boat once he decided to enter the water.
          Interesting note… did he have a sea plane rating?
          If not he was operating his aircraft unlawfully.

          • Hmmm…. an aircraft on wheels – not floats, operated from dirt – admittedly adjacent to water, but not IN the water. You need a seaplane rating to fly from gravel bars?

      • As I just said to Paul Bresher “Was the plane there when the kayak approached? Or vic versa? Who failed in a common duty of care?”
        Under Australian law it is an arguable point – the US? Who knows….?

        • In the US the unmotorized vehicle on a waterway had right of way. This become touchy because now the question of legality of even landing a non sea plane on sand bars (or navigable waterway) is in question and likely going to court.
          I see videos of people water skiing planes down rivers in aircraft certified only for land use. Rules change once you are on the water.

          • BOTH have the duty to see-and-avoid hazards. I guaranty if I heard a plane approaching then I’d roll into the river! I don’t care about “who’s right” if being right means getting killed.

  3. Oh puh-leez, give me a break. Fault on BOTH sides? Are you kidding me? This is entirely on the pilot. It is not up to a kayaker, or anyone, for that matter, to make sure that an airplane does not hit them.

  4. There is fault and there is common sense. Fault usually rests on the operator of the motorized vehicle, common sense would dictate that you not cross the path of a motorized vehicle or aircraft. A a first responder, I have seen many accidents where the person on the bicycle, walking, skate board etc, had the right away and was dead right. Bottom line if it has a motor, in it, you are responsible for not hitting other people.

  5. Here we go again…the only winners will be the lawyers…I can see the “cub is a dangerous design” argument coming up again (remember the cub that taxied into the fuel truck, after the design had been flying for over 50 years). Hope the legislation that limits liability works or Piper will be on the hook AGAIN.

    • Many more questions will have to be answered… was this sand bar private property? Was this a navigable water way? Did the plane touch water? Was the pilot sea plane rated? Was the aircraft a certified sea plane?
      Piper wasn’t at fault here… but you will be limited in what you can do with a Piper or any other outback plane now.

      • This area of the Willamette river, as are most areas of this river, is open to all who enjoy water sports especially when it has been over between 90F for every day since the end of May resulting in thousands of people on the Willamette river daily so how the pilot did not see one kayak in between the hundreds of other recreational people is beyond me.

        This area of the river is several miles North west of Salem and it is an open water recreational area.

        Listening to The local YCOM Fire and rescue Page out for this incident on one of our Helicopter EMS radios as this was occurring, it was apparent that the kayaker was simply doing what they do out in open recreation areas when she was hit by the plane.

        This won’t end good for the pilot either nor to future aircraft open landings and takeoffs in recreational areas either, not to mention that the medical bills alone will not be covered by his insurance and just the fact that the lawyers are already flocking to this girl side is not good for this pilot either.

  6. Using sand bars as runways is a dangerous proposition if you don’t own the land. The article doesn’t say if the boat was on the water. If so, the boat had right of way. Further, if the plane touched the water (a navigable waterway) and wasn’t a ‘sea plane’ or the pilot didn’t have a ‘sea plane rating’… yea, the pilot is screwed.

  7. Excuse me … in general, if a pilot / airplane hits a pedestrian walking down a runway — intended for exclusive use by airplanes — it’s mostly the pedestrians fault (I suppose they could say the pilot shoulda seen then avoided the pedestrian). If a pilot is playing around on a public use river / gravel bar — why would anyone purposely do gamble a perfectly good airplane just for ‘fun’? — it then becomes HIS responsibility to ensure his path is clear AND to abide by the min safe altitude and distance from people and things rule in 91.119(a) and (c). Assuming this was a “water operation,” 91.115(a) also applies. Further, the reckless operation rule 91.13(a) applies. It does NOT say boaters have to look out for airplanes landing on sandbars, it says that “No person may operate an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another.” Don’t believe me … ask Martha Lunken what they thought about her flight under a bridge near Cincinnati.

    Now, of course, we’re assuming the pilot was aware of the presence of the kayaker. But even if he was not, they’ll say he SHOULD have known (or seen) the kayaker and definitely ensured his path was clear. You can bet the woman’s lawyer will be citing those FAR’s when the civil case comes to Court.

    As I see it, this pilot is in a heap O’ trouble. The boys that are “kinder and gentler” are gonna be coming for him, too … his contriteness notwithstanding. I wonder what he thinks about landing on a sandbar now?

      • Approaching a normal runway of any kind, I’d agree. But once he’s out in the public away from an airport, I don’t see that as applying. I’m betting the woman’s lawyer will bring that up. This MAY be a place where the FAR’s need a bit of ‘tweaking.’ It could be likened to a kid running out between cars into a roadway and getting hit. The kid was wrong. But if someone is driving a car on grass in a park … THEY are MORE culpable. Anyhow, that’s how I see it.

  8. An important question in determining fault or liability is whether the risk of one’s conduct was reasonably foreseeable. For the airplane pilot taking off from a short strip on the river, the risk of a boat on the water is clearly foreseeable. For the kayaker paddling past a gravel bar, the risk of an airplane taking off is arguably not reasonably foreseeable. Apart from us pilots, I’d wager that 95% of the public outside of the state of Alaska has never heard of flying from gravel bars. The noise of the engine that others have mentioned is not much of a warning to a non-pilot either — many boats have much bigger engines than that Cub and make much more noise. It really is on the pilot to see and avoid river traffic. Let’s just be glad the consequences were relatively minor this time.

  9. The injuries are not very minor and in fact they are very serious.

    Also This will certainly end up with a grand jury indictment only because the FAA will probably do nothing and the prosecutors will take this into consideration, the outcome will be a very big law suit since the lady has serious neck injuries and a broken leg and went through several hours of surgery.

    Last reports were that the pilot lost control on takeoff according to witnesses and hit her. The last time this occurred on the same river but further South it resulted in 2 deaths and a grand jury indictment and a 22 million dollar law suit against that pilot only because the FAA did nothing but a small suspension to the pilot.

    Prosecutors will certainly be less forgiving than the FAA and for this reason the pilot will certainly pay.

  10. I’m sure the lady who got clipped wouldn’t agree, but this is really just an ordinary accident made newsworthy only by the unusual cast of characters. Had it been a powerboat or jet ski rather than an aircraft it would have been totally unremarkable and likely 95% of “us” would never have even heard of it.

    Regardless, it is worth re-reading the very first comment, in which William notes, in effect, that when you start operating off-airstrip the “gotchas” multiply exponentially. Not only are you considerably more likely to encounter unexpected undesirable outcomes, when you do it will virtually always be on your head that the you-know-what descends.

  11. Mark Phelps I’ll bet the last thing you expected as commentary was a lively debate about who’s culpable here. It’s one of the sillier debates I’ve read in these comment sections. Too many retired guys with too much time and coffee running through their systems.

  12. I’m a commercial ASES pilot. Seaplanes are in a similar situation to this accident. The pilot is responsible for avoiding boat traffic and swimmers under the FARs and Coast Guard regulations. This was an unfortunate accident and I’m glad no one was killed. Off-airport landings often have other aircraft, people, boats or wildlife that suddenly appear on takeoff or landing. The pilot has to be ready for them.