(Update: Family identifies pilot killed in crash; FAA info)
MARION FORKS, Ore. (KTVZ) – A pilot killed in the crash of his small plane last Thursday east of Marion Lake, between Mount Jefferson and Three Fingered Jack, has been identified by a family member as Chehalis, Washington resident Wayne Wirt.
Wirt was flying his Piper Cherokee on a solo trip from Llano, California to Chehalis last week but missed a check-in with his family Thursday afternoon, April Winters, Wirt’s daughter-in-law, said in a GoFundMe page created as the family seeks to raise at least $50,000 to remove the wreckage from the side of the mountain.
The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed to NewsChannel 21 that only the pilot was aboard when the single-engine Piper PA-28 crashed near Mount Jefferson Thursday afternoon. Public Affairs Specialist Ian Gregor said the FAA had issued an alert to pilots, airports and public safety agencies after the pilot's family reported the flight was overdue.
FAA records show the plane was built in 1966 and owned by Wirt and his wife. The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate, with the NTSB in charge of the investigation, he said.
Winters wrote that Wirt had retired from building Hollywood movie sets when he and his wife, Cindy, decided to move closer to their children and were in the process of moving to Chehalis. She said Wirt’s flight plan did not include travel to Sisters, but that he fueled his plane there Thursday afternoon.
Linn County Sheriff Michelle Duncan reported late Friday that on Thursday at 4:14 p.m., Linn County dispatch received information an airplane went down in the area of Mount Jefferson. Hikers in the area reported hearing what sounded like an airplane engine followed by a loud crash.
Two hikers were on the Pacific Crest Trail when they heard the crash and said they could smell fuel but did not see an airplane. The report was followed by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC) contacting dispatch and saying they had an airplane radar that disappeared over the Mount Jefferson Wilderness Area.
Around 6:25 p.m. Thursday, the AFRCC called back and said they confirmed radar showed a small plane go down and provided a general area.
Linn County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue, along with a Life Flight helicopter, were activated to search for the downed airplane. Life Flight flew the area but was not able to identify a crash site due to weather conditions. Additional air resources (the U.S. Coast Guard) also responded and were unable to locate a downed plane.
While crews were searching, the AFRCC advised they had received a report of a missing/overdue aircraft. The missing aircraft was a 1996 Piper Cherokee single-engine plane from Llano, California (a town in Los Angeles County).
On Friday at around 9 a.m., a Coast Guard helicopter flying search patterns during the daylight located the crash site east of Marion Lake between Mount Jefferson and Three Fingered Jack.
The sheriff said Linn County Search and Rescue teams hiked into the area and set up camp near the crash location. Rescuers confirmed the pilot was deceased, as the crash was not survivable.
The investigation is ongoing as the Linn County Sheriff’s Office coordinates with the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board. The Linn County Sheriff’s Office was assisted by the Deschutes County Dispatch Center, Life Flight, the US Coast Guard, Federal Aviation Administration, and National Transportation Safety Board with this investigation.
"Our sincerest condolences go out to the friends and family of the individual during this difficult time," the Coast Guard said.