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He only fell five feet from his lawn to the beach below. But, his new half-ton riding mower landed on top of him.

John Buchan, 73, of Port Ludlow, Jefferson County, a noted Northwest sailor and homebuilder, “went over backward” the day after Easter. The tide was out but returning.

He “heard vertebrae breaking [and] had no feeling in my lower body.”

Buchan’s neck was broken and said he thought, “maybe this is the way I check out.”

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From all his life experiences — from breaking ribs and being run over and struck in the helmet racing hydros at 100 mph to racing oceangoing 52-foot sailboats — it seemed an unlikely end.

With Buchan hypothermic and in shock after two hours on the beach, a 12-year-old neighbor girl happened along. Buchan’s pulse was down to 30.

The nearby fire department raced to the beach and stabilized him. A helicopter flew Buchan to Harborview Medical Center.

A surgeon placed two steel rods along the fractured vertebrae. Put in traction, Buchan soon experienced a return of feeling in his arms.

His spine was bruised but not lacerated.

Now, physical therapy is the daily regimen to regain strength and muscle tone.

A 90 percent recovery is anticipated, but it will be three months before he drives a car again and possibly six months before taking the helm at a sailboat race.

Considering the accident, Buchan says he’s “really lucky.”

“I don’t know how many of my nine lives I’ve used. It wasn’t my time yet.”

Lawn mowing will now be done by a hired crew.

Alan Berner: 206-464-8133

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