Airplane bursts into 'giant fireball,' pilot killedSEASIDE - A pilot was killed when his small plane crashed in a "giant fireball" during Monday afternoon's storm. The wings of the craft were ripped off and the heat from the blaze kept a potential rescuer away.

Authorities have tentatively identified the man as being from Pendleton, but will use dental records to confirm his identity. His name will be released after next of kin are notified.

He may have been heading from Newport to Troutdale, said Clatsop County Sheriff John Raichl.

The pilot had attempted to land the single-engine Beachcraft plane 3:45 p.m. Monday at the Seaside Airport, but was going too fast after his initial touch down, authorities said. He got the plane back into the air and immediately "got into issues with the weather," Raichl said.

The pilot battled heavy rain and 40 to 60-knot wind gusts, in a second attempt to land the plane.

Keith Jorgenson, who lives in a mobile home park at the south end of the airport, watched the pilot struggle to get airborne.

HELEN WARRINER - The Daily Astorian

Seaside Fire Department and Medix personnel wait outside the airplane crash scene, located in a heavily wooded area behind 1990 Lewis and Clark Road."This was total insanity," he said. "I thought that this guy was nuts. The plane never seemed to get any elevation. When it crashed, there was this loud explosion that sounded like it was right next door."

Residence owner Jerry Hendryx watched the plane fly about 200 feet over his house at 1990 Lewis and Clark Road before crashing in the woods about 800 feet behind it. His house is about 1,000 feet from the airport. The wings were torn off on impact and it immediately burst into flames.

Hendryx called Seaside 9-1-1 and ran to the plane to assist the pilot, but was forced away by the fire.

"The body was in bad shape," Raichl said. "We're going to extricate the remains and get it to a mortuary. The examination will be under the direction of Clatsop County Medical Examiner Joanne Stefanelli. As we remove the body, we'll look for any identification that may still be around."

That will be difficult. As the plane crashed, it exploded in a "giant fireball," according to witnesses. Seaside Fire Department officers used foam on the scene, but at 6 p.m. Monday, there were still some hot spots.

HELEN WARRINER - The Daily Astorian

The white wing of a Beechcraft airplanes lies in a heavily wooded area behind 1990 Lewis and Clark Road. The wing was torn from the airplane on impact as it crashed Monday.Most of the plane had burned, including identification marks. Beachcraft airplanes are a typical, fairly lightweight single-engine aircraft. Most are made to handle 15 to 17-knot crosswinds, according to Seaside Airport Committee chairman Jason Ketcheson, a Cannon Beach pilot and flight instructor.

"Definitely, with the way the winds were, he was flying in conditions that were beyond that plane's capacity to handle," Ketcheson said. "He should have had at least a mile visibility and 1,000-feet cloud clearance."

When the wind blows against the hills to the east of Seaside, it sometimes creates a vacuum effect that can suck an airplane down. Although Ketcheson believes this incident was "completely all pilot error," he said a flight-based operator, located at the airport, could have monitored the radio and helped the pilot. That is an idea that the airport committee has planned to examine.

"He never should have been in the air," he said. "His decision-making process was extremely poor when he headed into that hillside. This is just terrible."

Seaside Airport Committee Vice Chairman Randall Henderson said that it "might be inappropriate to say that it was all pilot error, because it's hard to say what was happening. We're really just speculating.

"People who grumble about the airport may now just grumble louder," Henderson said. "But it's still an appropriate non-instrument rated airport. Airplanes do have accidents."

Raichl, himself a veteran pilot, said flying in Monday's weather would have been "quite a chore."

HELEN WARRINER - The Daily Astorian

The white reflective striping on Seaside fire fighter's uniforms glows as they examine the ground for hot spots after a plane crashed into a wooded area behind 1990 Lewis and Clark Road Monday after leaving the Seaside airport."Visibility was below half a mile, with that driving rain" he said. "The wind gusts were clocked at about 42 nautical miles per hour and the wind kept changing rapidly."

Ketcheson said that FAA visual flight rules state that for an uncontrolled class-g airport, a pilot must have at least one statute mile visibility.

Public Works Engineer Neal Wallace said that the pilot had not filed a flight plan in the logbook located in a mailbox at the airport. The white plane is not familiar to local pilots, Raichl said.

The Sheriff's office, assisted by Seaside police and firefighters, stayed at the scene most of the night to remove the body. Raichl turned the investigation over to the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration today.

The Oregon State Police and Medix ambulance personnel also responded.


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