Elizabeth Doney Havre Daily News email@example.com
The investigation of the plane crash that claimed the l ives of three local men Thursday morning near a Washington airport may take one to two months to complete, said a spokesperson for the National Transportation Safety Board. The three Haverites who perished were champion of Havre causes John Brown Sr., 60, the wel l -known and wel l - l iked Randy McPherson, 59, and young Missoula-transplant Chris Schafer, 25. The men had departed Havre Thursday morning on their way to Anacortes, Wash. To take in some fishing. Brown had made the trip on several occasions and kept a boat stored in the area, Skagit County Coroner Daniel Dempsey said. Brown owned three local oil and gas companies including J Burns Brown Operating Inc., Santana Inc., and Textana Inc., and was the pilot on the doomed flight. Investigators said they believed there were no witnesses to the plane crash, nor any communication from the plane after their missed landing, which was scheduled for 9:57 a. m. Thursday. The wreckage was discovered around 12:45 p. m. by a private helicopter pilot flying overhead who saw the smoke and notified the authorities, Dempsey said. "The plane appears to have shot two approaches," said Kurt Anderson, NTSB investigatorin- charge. "The clouds were solid 100 feet above the ground bringing visibility to one-quarter- of-a-mile, which is very low. During the first approach, the pilot was not able to land, he radioed in that he did see the runway, but it was too late and he was going to try again. He went around and tried to land again and it was during the second time that he crashed about a mile and a half from the approach end of the runway." At the estimated time of the crash, the National Weather S e r v i c e s ta t i on fo r the Burlington area reported temperatures at 54 degrees, with cloudy, foggy and overcast skies, 100 percent humidity, visBility at less than a quarter mile and low clouds with a base of 100 feet above the ground, said Bob Hoenisch of the Great Falls National Weather Service. "It was a foggy morning here and we are not sure if that played into the pilot crashing or not," Dempsey said. "It appears that they came in low and clipped some trees." The Skagit County Sheriff's department, the Bayview Fire Department, Skagit County Department of Emergency Management, the Washington State Patrol and local fire and aid crews responded to the wreckage. The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board, the official investigators, were also notified and responded the scene. "The original report we got of the plane crash came from the Woodby Island Naval Air Station, the controlling agency for the airspace (near Skagit Airport). They requested that we check the area because the plane was overdue they hadn't closed out their flight plan," Skagit County Sheriff Rick Grimstead said. "They had filed a flight plan and were under positive control the entire trip until the pilot evidently made a pass over the field trying to land on the runway as scheduled and he was probably circling around to attempt another landing when he impacted some trees." The aircraft went down in a heavily wooded area and sustained considerable damage, the Sheriff department reported. "When I arrived at the scene, I saw the burned wreckage with the tail section of the plane leaning up against the tree with the wing parts remaining and the rest of it destroyed in the fire," Coroner Dempsey said. The completed autopsy revealed that all three men died on impact from severe trauma to the body, namely the chest and head with a time of death between 10 and 10:30 a.m. Dempsey said. The National Transportation Safety Board retrieved the plane the same day of the crash and will continue to analyze the aircraft and variables in the crash to determine probable cause of the accident, Anderson said. "We do have a lot of radar data that we have already acquired and we have audio tapes of the interaction between the pilot and controller of their transmissions and some prints of the radar, but we have additional radar coming ... we have a lot of data to go through," Anderson said. "The Federal Aviation Administration will be doing the toxicology analysis on the pilot, which is standard procedure, and that can take up to a couple months. We will be dissembling the plane probably some time next week and we will get more details everyday," Anderson added. "But the entire investigation won't be complete for another month to two months." The Skagit County Coroner's office will remain in possession of the crash victims' bodies pending dental record comparisons, which is standard protocol before releasing remains to the families, Dempsey said. "We are hoping to get them released by Friday of this week," Dempsey said. "Sooner of course, if we get it all together before that." Holland & Bonine of Havre will complete obituaries for Brown and McPherson when funeral services can be scheduled. Arrangements for Schafer are being handled in Missoula.