One by land, one by sea

The Reporter's Notebook


Last updated 12/1/2021 at 8:46am

When I lived in Bothell, I used to fly a lot in small planes.

One of my friends, Phil Strathy, had a land plane, kept in Monroe. Another friend had a seaplane, kept on Lake Washington at Kenmore.

About every month I would get a call from Phil wanting to know if I wanted to fly with him to someplace for lunch.  The answer was always yes.

Phil was the Darigold distributor for our area, and he was always interested in getting some flying time in.

Usually, lunch meant about a three- or four-hour break.  You can do this if you are the boss.

One day when he called, he said another person would be flying with us. Turned out he had a seaplane and would later be in rotation.

Phil invited me to fly with him to Bissel Lake, about 20 miles north of the Gifford Ferry on SR-25.

He had some property there that included an old farmhouse, the tiny lake, and a landing strip that he built.

It was a good flight, one that I would make with him a couple more times. The lake was good fishing and we caught a few trout. The property, according to Phil, was once a resort.

The landing area was carved out of a bench area overlooking the Columbia River. Looked small to me but was plenty long. He had an old Jeep parked there so he could drive on up to the farmhouse.

The next time I went there with him I took my oldest son, Paul, along.

Later, our entire family made the trip, this time by car, and we stayed in the farmhouse, courtesy of Phil.

Now, you can always find problems if you are so inclined; the mice in the farmhouse acted as if we were intruders, and in a sense we were.

Three of our kids decided they would take their sleeping bags and sleep outside. We watched them make their way by flashlight to a hillside near the lake rather than put up with the mice.

All was well in the morning.

The seaplane trips for lunch were ever as interesting. My favorite lunch outing was Friday Harbor in the San Juans.

He would fly in and tie the plane up, and we would make a short walk to a restaurant.

On one of the trips, the seaplane owner asked Phil if he had ever landed a seaplane. Phil said no, and he took over. I reminded the pair that I was aboard and that they could experiment at another time. But Phil brought us in, and it was a smooth landing on water.

I don’t know how many times we did this, but it was always fun. I would much rather fly in a small plane than in a large one.

On one of the trips back from Bissell Lake, the weather was pretty much fogged in. That was when I knew what flying by instruments was all about.

Phil said he was in a setting that should bring us in near Edmonds. I remember looking down a few times and seeing snow-covered peaks, and then the weather would close in again. To me it was a white-knuckle flight, but not to Phil.

Months later, our family took a vacation to Southern Idaho.

When we returned, I got the two newspapers I’d missed because of being away.

I was shocked when I read that Phil and two of his daughters had been killed when their plane crashed into a mountainside in the Cascades.

It was later determined that Phil had used his own judgement rather than trust his instruments.

A very sad day, but I will always remember those special flights.

Even today when driving up SR-25, I turn in to Bissell Lake, and tour the area that I used to visit with Phil.


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