Navy pilot drops in to Crater Lake, again
Herald and News
Klamath Falls, Oregon
August 27, 2002
By LEE JUILLERAT
Navy pilot back at Crater Lake 41 years after ejecting into its waters
CRATER LAKE — Forty-one years after literally dropping into Crater Lake, Bill Boardman dropped by for Monday’s Crater Lake National Park first-ever alumni reunion.
Boardman’s only previous park visit was Aug. 26, 1961, when he parachuted into the lake from his F-8 Crusader fighter jet shortly before it crashed and burned at nearby Timber Crater.
“It’s kind of chilling to see the lake. And to think that I actually did it, is hard to comprehend,” said Boardman of his unique lake entry. “It’s kind of spooky.”
Boardman, then a 25-year-old Navy pilot, and Dave Best, in another F-8, were flying from Miramar Naval Air Station near San Diego to Whidbey Island, Wash.
“We were steaming up the coast having a grand time,” recalls Boardman. “We were looking forward to Saturday night in Whidbey Island.”
He remembers routinely checking his fuel gauge during the flight. But the routine evaporated when Boardman noticed the gauge suddenly indicated he was rapidly losing fuel.
“This is not good,” he remembers worrying.
Boardman radioed Best, and turned to head back toward Kingsley Air Force Base at Klamath Falls. Best, who flew alongside, reported that fuel was streaming out of Boardman’s wheel well. Because of a thin overcast, the planes dropped from an elevation of 35,000 feet above sea level to 20,000 feet.
“The gauge went to zero and the engine quit,” Boardman remembers. “I said, ‘Well, where am I going to eject? I look around and all I can see are trees. I thought I was over dense forest. Getting out of an airplane is always a big surprise.”
Boardman remembers ejecting, wondering where he would land and, suddenly, seeing the massive bowl of Crater Lake below him.
“I had never seen the lake, heard of the lake. It was a frightful sight. I thought, ‘How am I going to get out of this sucker?’ Those are steep sides. I had a pretty good ride down, and time to assess the situation.
“So I go into the water, pretty close to right here,” said Boardman, pointing to an area between Rim Village and Wizard island. “I dropped to the surface, popped my vest, inflated the raft, and hopped into the raft.”
Boardman’s descent into Crater Lake wasn’t unseen. Greg Hartell of Klamath Falls, then 20 and working his third year as a park seasonal, and two others were working at the newly opened Cleetwood Cove boat-launch center.
“We were down at the lake because of a storm that had broken part of the dock’s loose,” remembers Hartell.
“We saw his partner flying toward Cleetwood Cove and at the same time saw the parachute. We thought it was an unoccupied plane,” remembers Hartell, who feared it was out of control and about to crash. “We hesitated because we didn’t know which way to run.”
When the plane banked skyward, Hartell realized the pilot had been trying to gain their attention. He and the others jumped in a boat and began motoring.
“We took a bearing on the canopy and headed out there,” said Hartell.
A permanent park ranger, Lynn Williamson, joined them.
After landing and climbing into the raft, Boardman was comfortable and, considering the situation, confident. Best flew his jet into the caldera — Boardman guesses he was only 12 feet above the water — to check on his friend.
“He waved at me and he wagged his wings and flew out of there. He takes off. I figure, well I’ll sit here for awhile. I figured they’d send a helicopter. Instead of a helicopter, here comes the Park Service in their little boat,” remembers Boardman, adding with a chuckle, “They pulled up and somebody said, ‘Can we help you?’ ”
Boardman figures he was in the lake 15 or 20 minutes, which Hartell believes is correct. But Hartell thinks Boardman was about three-quarters of the way between Cleetwood Cove and Wizard Island.
Boardman said he regarded the emergency evacuation from his plane, his jump and time in the lake as “pretty matter of fact.” He had earlier ejected from another disabled jet. He landed uninjured in a Southern California field, “and there was a doctor standing there.”
Neither Boardman nor Hartell remembers much about the boat ride back to Cleetwood.
“I was running the launch so I don’t recall much,” said Hartell.
What Hartell remembers is Williamson insisting that Boardman’s gear was government property, so he refused to allow Boardman to give it to Hartell and the other seasonals. But on the hike up the 1.1 mile long trail, which gains 700 vertical feet, Williamson changed his mind, and gave away the gear to some thrilled kids.
Hartell was frustrated again a few days later when lodge employees took the launch and located Boardman’s helmet — “And there we were, beat out again.”
“I dropped my helmet because one of the dangers of parachuting into water is trying to gauge your distance, of depth perception,” explained Boardman. “You don’t want to unhook from your parachute too soon.”
Although confident because of his training, he admits the parachute drop was unnerving.
“You’re going into this big hole in the ground with water — yeh, it gave me concerns.”
After the hike up to the rim, Boardman was driven by Williamson until they met up with Oregon State Police, who drove him to Kingsley.
“Of course,” remembers Hartell of news reports that featured Williamson, “he got all the press.”
“And I got drunk at the officer’s club,” quipped Boardman.
His sleep was interrupted early the next morning by a telephone call. News reports of his crash and rescue had carried back to his family in Ohio, and his worried father was on the line.
Investigators went to the crash site and determined a cracked fuel line caused the accident.
Boardman, who was not injured, soon returned to flying. And six weeks later had to bail from another jet after its wing came off.
“There was no Crater Lake, only the desert, and I got out of that just fine.”
Boardman spent five years in the Navy, plus eight in the reserves. He was recalled to active duty in 1968 during the Pueblo incident. Best, the pilot who flew alongside Boardman 41 years ago, was also recalled, but was killed in a flying accident.
After three ejections, Boardman eventually, and ironically, made a career selling aviation insurance. Age 66, he’s now retired and living in Seattle.
“I’ve had a lot of fun with the story over my life,” said Boardman of his one-of-a-kind Crater Lake tale. “The odds of it are just so outlandish. I tell some people and they think I’m lying.”
He decided to attend Monday’s reunion, which drew more than 400 former park employees and friends, after meeting a former park ranger who put him in contact with park historian Steve Mark, Hartell’s son-in-law. Boardman and Hartell exchanged letters, and agreed to meet at the reunion.
“I’d not been to Crater Lake until today,” said Boardman. “The funniest part of the story is one of the first people I met when I go into the lake 41 years ago is Greg. And today when I’m standing in line one of the first people I meet is Greg.”
Just like many others at Monday’s reunion, Boardman and Hartell had lots to talk about.