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Originally published Saturday, September 1, 2012 at 5:37 PM

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Author Richard Bach injured in plane crash

Author Richard Bach, whose "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" was a 1970s best-seller, was in serious condition at Harborview Medical Center Saturday after his small plane crashed Friday on San Juan Island.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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My thoughts and prayers are with my favorite author and adventurer. Your books have ope... MORE
My thoughts and prayers to the family. Richard is a great author. One of his books... MORE
"Illusions" is my favorite of his books. It's about flying, of course. The... MORE

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The son of "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" author Richard Bach said he'll know his father will be OK if he wakes up worried about his plane.

"He's so in love with that airplane, and he's had so much fun with it," said James Marcus Bach.

The elder Bach, a best-selling author whose writings often speak to the ecstasy of flight, was in serious condition Saturday at Harborview Medical Center with a head injury and a punctured lung, after crashing the amphibious plane he calls "Puff" on San Juan Island Friday afternoon.

James Bach said doctors are most concerned about the head injury. "We're in a wait-and-see mode," he said.

Bach, 76, was flying from his home on Orcas Island to visit an old friend on neighboring San Juan Island. As he attempted to land on a grass air strip on the friend's property, the plane snagged some power lines and crashed, said a spokesman for the San Juan County Sheriff's office.

Two power poles snapped, and the live wires sparked a grass fire. Bach's plane flipped, leaving him hanging upside down from his harness.

A group of campers from Seattle saw the accident and cut Bach free, the San Juan Islander reported. "He was bleeding," camper Lucy Williams told the online newspaper. "He had a dent in his head."

James Bach said his father had never landed at the airstrip before but had been warned about the power lines. "I don't know if he forgot, or he didn't see them, or he thought they were on the other side."

Flying was a transcendent experience for Richard Bach, and he wove the theme into much of his writing. "Dad regards flying as his religion, and he's very serious about that," James Bach said.

The 1970 novella that catapulted Bach to the top of best-seller lists featured a rebel seagull who flew for the sheer joy of it and soared above the narrow conventions of his flock.

Panned by many critics, the book found a loyal following, with fans embracing the message of hope and the feathered hero's rejection of materialism. The book was made into a movie, with a soundtrack by Neil Diamond.

Bach authored several other spiritually themed books, including "Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah."

"My father writes books about what it's possible to do with a positive spirit, and that's how he lives," said James Bach.

A native of Illinois, Bach moved to the San Juan Islands about 20 years ago, settling in Eastsound on Orcas Island. He reveled in the wild beauty and shared pictures and videos through his website.

Bach recently flew his stylish SeaRey seaplane across country. He was finishing a book about the aircraft and his adventures with it, James Bach said.

The Federal Aviation Administration registry describes the craft as home-built," and lists its manufacturer as James G. Gilbert. James Bach said his father did not assemble the plane, which can land equally well on water and solid ground.

The National Transportation Safety Administration and the FAA will investigate the accident, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said in an email Saturday. NTSB should post a preliminary report within one or two weeks

Bach began flying at the age of 17, and spent several years as a military fighter pilot.

"He always said ... the right way for him to die is while flying," James Bach said. "What I'm more afraid of than anything else is that he'll recover from this and not be able to fly anymore."

Sandi Doughton: 206-464-2491 or sdoughton@seattletimes.com

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