National News

'He's a darn good pilot': Family of Hillsboro plane crash victim shares story

Posted April 30, 2018 9:06 a.m. EDT

— The conditions of the pilot and passenger who survived a plane crash into an orchard outside Hillsboro are improving, according to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center.

A nursing supervisor told FOX 12 that 73-year-old Gary Hagstrom has been downgraded from "critical condition" to "serious condition." The other man who survived, 88-year-old Gennaro Avolio, is now in "fair condition."

Witnesses said the engine wasn't running and the plane hit a tree before going down.

The two men were pulled by firefighters from the YAK 52 Thursday afternoon. The Washington County Sheriff said the plane was having engine trouble before it crashed.

Sam Peck first heard of his stepfather's crash when one of Hagstrom's friends called him, concerned the plane he was flying might have gone down. Then Peck got a call from the hospital – confirming the devastating news.

"I was shaken up," Peck said. "It was so scary."

Since then, it's been an emotional roller-coaster for the family. They now feel grateful it seems the worst is behind them, and Hagstrom should make a full recovery.

"(The doctors) said he's very lucky to be alive and his guardian angels are working overtime," Peck said.

Peck said Hagstrom is on a ventilator, and although the family hasn't yet been able to speak him, his stepfather seems to be in good spirits. Still, the road to recovery will be a long one.

"He has two cracked vertebrae -- up in the chest area -- a couple cracked ribs, broken sternum, bump on the head from hitting the canopy a couple times, and a broken femur ball socket," Peck said.

Peck said Hagstrom was flying the World War II era Yak 52 as a favor for its owner. The plane belongs to the Classic Aircraft Aviation Museum in Hillsboro.

Hagstrom and Avolio planned to fly it from Creswell to Scappoose, until they had engine trouble, and rerouted – hoping to get to the Hillsboro Airport.

"He was trying to make that field (beyond the orchard), but the gravity got the better of him," Peck said. "It was because of his flight hours that he was just able to guide it in as best as he could."

And Hagstrom is no novice pilot.

Peck estimates his stepfather has about 50 years experience flying: he was a Navy pilot during the Vietnam War and then flew many years for American Airlines.

"I know he's a darn good pilot," Peck said, adding that his stepfather's skill likely saved both men's lives.

And although Hagstrom had never flown the Yak 52, Peck said he was familiar with the Russian plane, and even has a similar one sitting in his hanger.

The CJ-6 now waiting for him at home.

"He's stubborn, so he'll try to get back in the air as soon as he can," Peck said.

Peck said he believes his stepfather would have completed a full safety check before takeoff.

The FAA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are still investigation the cause of the crash.