News

Islander pilot killed in plane crash

By Bruce Rommel

King County Journal

An accident near Everett's Paine Field on Saturday claimed the life of Mercer Island resident, pilot and businessman, D. Eugene ``Gene'' Hokanson, the founder and president of a Bellevue company that manufactures medical diagnostic equipment sold around the world. Two young passengers on the plane, Brittany Boatright and Kandyce Cowart, also died in the crash of the single-engine aircraft.

The two students were freshmen at Aviation High School near Boeing Field.

Hokanson, 67, was one of the local pilots who volunteered to provide free flights to Aviation High School students on Saturday, flying the two students in the four-seat Piper 28 that he co-owned.

The volunteer pilots were to fly students from Boeing Field to Paine Field in Everett for a touch-and-go landing, then return to Boeing Field.

Witnesses said the Piper airplane seemed to have trouble gaining altitude after taking off from Paine Field, then clipped some trees and dropped into a work site near the airport where new homes were under construction, bursting into flames on impact.

The girls were among 200 students at Aviation High, a special school operated in partnership by the Highline School District, South Seattle Community College and private aviation. The school, attended by students from throughout King County, is a college-prep high school offering regular classes along with a special curriculum designed to prepare students for careers in aviation or aerospace.

The flight Saturday wasn't sponsored by the school district. It was part of the Experimental Aircraft Association's Young Eagles program to introduce young people to general aviation. The accident Saturday that claimed the lives of the students and Hokanson were the first fatalities in the program, which has provided 1.2 million flights nationwide for young people since the program began in 1992.

Aviation High currently has 200 students from throughout King County. It opened last year with 100 freshman and this fall added another 100 freshmen as last year's freshmen became sophomores. New freshman classes will boost enrollment to 300 in fall of 2006 and full enrollment of 400 in fall of 2007. Students must apply to attend the school.

Boatright, 15, and Cowart, 14, both from Burien, were good friends who sat together in classes, fellow students said.

Hokanson, who had a doctorate in medical engineering from the University of Washington, founded D.E. Hokanson, Inc., in 1973. Headquartered in Bellevue, the company develops and manufactures non-invasive vascular medical diagnostic equipment.

Products include a range of devices for monitoring and measuring vascular functions in veins and arteries, such as a doppler to monitor fetal heartbeats. The products are sold and distributed in more than 30 countries, according to the company's Web site.

The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are investigating the accident.

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