A Sandy pilot whose plane cartwheeled into the Great Salt Lake Sunday afternoon escaped serious injury but spent about eight hours on the lake in a snowstorm waiting to be rescued.
Donald Zakraisek, 40, had flown to Tooele for breakfast and was returning to Salt Lake Airport No. 2 in West Jordan when his engine stalled and sent the small plane tumbling toward the lake, said Salt Lake County Sheriff Aaron Kennard.Zakraisek told sheriff's officers his engine had stalled and he restarted it several times before he ditched the craft in the water. He was able to climb out through a window and remained perched on top of the partially submerged airplane while waiting for searchers.
"He was going to try to swim to the shore and then decided against it," said Capt. Mike Wilkinson, the sheriff's special services commander. "He was about 1,000 feet from shore, and the water was only 4 feet deep. He could have waded out, but his perception was that the water was deeper and he would have to swim."
The pilot got a bit wet crawling out of the plane but would probably have died of exposure if he had been soaked, Kennard said.
The Federal Aviation Administration initiated a search after the pilot became overdue. Using computer radar maps, a ground team from the Civil Air Patrol began driving along a railroad causeway across the lake toward the area the plane had last been seen on radar when they heard the pilot yelling from the lake at about 6:30 p.m. Kennard said he was surprised the search crews could hear the pilot because of the distance and weather.
Sheriff's search and rescue crews waded out to the wreck and then took Zakraisek to shore in an inflatable boat at about 9 p.m. He was then taken by helicopter to Alta View Hospital where he was treated and released later in the evening.
FAA investigators were scheduled to begin an investigation of the crash at noon Monday.