By RAELYNN RICARTE
and JESSE BURKHARDT
Searchers looking for an overdue plane located a crash site just west of Hood River's Ken Jernstedt Airfield on Friday afternoon.
On board the small plane were Paul Linck, 41, of White Salmon; Chris Jones, 34, of Hood River; and Brook Campbell, 26, of Home Valley.
All three men perished in the crash.
The plane, a Cirrus SR22, was reported overdue by family members at approximately 1 a.m. on Friday. The men were on their way back to Hood River from a business trip to Salem, Ore. They had planned to leave Salem at about 8 p.m. Thursday, and should have made it to Hood River about an hour later.
Linck, the pilot, was a flight instructor at the Hood River airport. Jones owned and operated Son-Rise Development in Hood River. Campbell was the owner of Rockin' the Gorge, a sheetrock installation business based in Home Valley.
A helicopter from the Oregon National Guard located the downed plane at about 4:30 p.m. Friday, after fog in the area had hampered the search for several hours.
The aircraft hit a 2,200 foot ridge above Starvation Creek and went down about five miles from the Hood River airport. The plane appeared to have broken apart after crashing into two large trees.
Hood River County Sheriff Joe Wampler sat alone in the flight center of the Ken Jernstedt Airfield late Saturday afternoon after completing the last telephone call from his temporary command post. He had wanted to personally notify the three wives that the wait was over, and that the remains of their husbands had been recovered from the scene of a plane wreck.
"Talking to the families who were sitting there waiting and not knowing what was going on really brought the tragedy home," Wampler said.
The sheriff began organizing a ground and air search along the Columbia River at first light on Friday, in hopes of finding a downed plane with survivors aboard. He knew that the plane had last been tracked by radar over Stevenson, about 8:30 the night before.
Wampler's hopes were quashed when the National Guard helicopter located the wreckage of the Cirrus SR22 on Viento Ridge west of Hood River. Although Guardsmen observed two fatalities from the air, Wampler sent in a search team to check the status of the third person, who was not clearly visible from the air.
Once Wampler was certain that no one had survived the accident, he arranged for the bodies to be recovered. On Saturday, about 50 volunteers braved the one and a quarter mile trek downhill to help with the grisly task. They worked their way through heavy underbrush from the top of the ridge to the wreckage at the 2,200 foot elevation.
The Crag Rats took the lead in organizing three retrieval teams, which also included members of Wind River Search and Rescue, friends and family of each victim, and five workers from Campbell's Rockin' the Gorge Drywall business. It took the teams each about two hours to carry one of the victims back up the steep terrain.
The mood of searchers was grim as they left the swath of wreckage, but Wampler said the community spirit shown by all of the volunteers reflected well on each of the three Gorge communities that had lost a citizen.
"I can't say enough about the number of people who came out to the airport and offered their help. We had so many local pilots who wanted to be in on the search that it was impossible to utilize all of their services," Wampler said. "An equal number of people came forward to help with the ground operations and I just can't thank them enough."
Bernie Elsner, a private pilot who lives in Husum, was one of those who helped in the search for the missing plane.
"It had been on a straight line course to the airport," Elsner said.
Elsner pointed out that the type of aircraft involved in the crash flies at about 200 miles per hour and the terrain beneath the plane can change suddenly.
"At 200 miles per hour, it just takes a few seconds," he said.
Elsner declined to speculate about what might have happened. He added that he knew Linck.
"He was a flight instructor at the Hood River airport," Elsner explained. "He was very well-liked and a very nice man."
Also present on Saturday were officials from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board. They investigated the scene and will issue a report in upcoming months that outlines the probable cause for the accident, and if any mechanical failures were noted.
Wampler said the flying conditions were foggy at the time of the crash, and Linck might have become disoriented when he could no longer see the ground.
According to Wampler, a similar wreck about 500 feet higher on the same ridge claimed five lives about 15 years ago during foggy weather.