Monroe attorney and former long-time city councilman Kenneth Berger, 60, died the afternoon of Saturday, May 24, during a failed takeoff in an amphibious plane from the surface of Banks Lake in Eastern Washington.
Witnesses say the plane, a two-seat SeaRey LSX he built himself from a kit last year, attempted to take off and cleared the surface of the water before crashing back in nose first.
Nearby boaters dove to try to save his life and managed to get him out of his seat belt but CPR was not successful. He had been submerged about seven minutes.
A friend told press that Berger had flown with his wife to stay at Steamboat Rock State Park. He was alone in the plane when it crashed.
Ken Berger was an influential person in Monroe, a man whose small stature and quiet mannerisms belied an adventurous nature, a widely varied set of interests, and a taste for city politics.
As owner of printing company Calico Press and as a practicing attorney in Monroe, Ken Berger was first elected to the Monroe City Council in 1989 and was re-elected four times.
Parks were top among his priorities, and he was instrumental in the creation of the park at Lake Tye.
Berger stepped down following a PDC fine against him, at the time the largest in state history, over a $300 campaign donation that the state found he’d had a friend pass to another friend’s campaign.
But that didn’t end Berger’s interest in civic affairs. He was an active member of the Monroe Lion’s Club, of which his wife, Debra, was one of the two first women granted membership in 2010.
Berger was a do-it-yourself handyman as well; his law office and printing business occupied two historic homes that he joined into one; he built and rented townhouses and he also took pride in the water feature he installed in the front yard of his law practice.
An avid mountaineer, Berger had climbed Mt. Rainier 29 times and had planned to climb it again this year, in celebration of his 60th birthday.
He was also a long-time pilot, and made news when he crashed a six-seat Helio Courier into Lake Isabel, high in the Wild Sky Wilderness. He had been attempting a takeoff from the lake, but wasn’t able to gain critical altitude and had to make an emergency landing. Although it was October, he and his passenger swam to shore, climbed a cliff out of the lake, and hiked miles to find help.
The plane settled in 230 feet of water, but over subsequent summers, Berger hiked back to the lake with equipment until he and friends, one of whom was an accomplished diver, were able to attach inflatable airbags to the plane and raise it to the surface.
Berger then painstakingly restored the plane, renamed it “Isabel” after the lake, and resumed flying it in 2010.
Berger spent many hours in the air, and sometimes offered scenic flights as prizes in charity auctions, especially for the Lion’s Club, of which he was an active member.
Late last year, Berger was once again in the news for his love of aircraft; he had completed a three-year project of building a small two-seat SeaRey LSX amphibious plane from scratch. By then he had a decade of experience in the cockpit, and tested and flew his new plane successfully.
It was in that plane that he crashed Saturday.
This obituary is a work in progress, and we will add to it as we collect more details of his life, and the reflections of the people who knew him, as well as details about memorial services.