MADRAS, Ore. - (Update:Sheriff releases pilot's name)
Jefferson County sheriff's deputies late Monday identified the pilot killed in Saturday's plane crash south of Madras Airport as a 58-year-old man from Menlo Park, California.
Deputies said Mark James Rich was killed when his 2002 fixed-wing, single-engine aircraft crashed into Willow Creek Canyon shortly before 2 p.m.
"The Rich family has asked me to convey their request for privacy at this time," said Jefferson County Sheriff Jim Adkins. "I appreciate the sensitivity of the media in particular to make every effort to show respect for the family's needs and allow them to mourn in private."
The plane, a single-engine, home-built Wheeler Express, was arriving at the Madras Airport when it crashed "under unknown circumstances" in Willow Creek Canyon around 1:50 p.m., Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said Saturday.
Dispatchers with 911 notified Jefferson County sheriff's deputies of the crash, and Oregon State Police troopers and Jefferson County Fire and EMS also responded to the scene, about a mile south of the airport, Deputy Ron Larson said.
They reached the plane from the south side of the canyon and found the plane engulfed in flames near the top of the canyon.
Officials at the Joint Information Coordination Center in Redmond said an area farmer was on scene fighting a fire on the plane when first responders arrived at the scene.
Officials initially had said there were two people aboard the plane who did not survive the crash. But Sheriff Jim Adkins said late Saturday night that was in error, and only person, the pilot, was on it.
Adkins said emergency personnel worked late into the night and made contact with owners of the downed plane and were now certain only one person was on board. The aircraft was completely destroyed and had been engulfed by fire.
"A reservation tied to the plane for two persons to stay in the local area originally suggested that the pilot and a passenger were on board," Adkins said. "After talking to a family member who had originally planned to make the trip, but changed plans, we can confirm there was just one person on the flight."
Adkins expressed appreciation to OSP, Jefferson County Fire District No. 1epartment, BNSF Railroad and EMS personnel, along with local volunteers, who assisted at the crash site.
The investigation by federal aviation officials is ongoing.
San Francisco TV station KPIX reported the plane took off from the San Carlos airport around 11 a.m.
Officials said the plane was one of about 400 flying into Madras for the eclipse, so many that the airport, which usually operates without a tower, brought in a mobile one.
The sheriff's office confirmed the pilot was in contact with air traffic control and was on final approach.
The small brushfire sparked by the crash was mopped up, Larson said, adding that no other property was damaged.
Jim Spencer lives just south of the airport and is used to the sounds. He was in his backyard, entertaining family in town for the eclipse.
As another plane soared overhead later, on its way to a landing, Spencer said the approach "pretty much lines up with my driveway. So they're nice and quiet. But when you hear one go, 'brrp, brrp, broop,' you know, and it (the engine) cuts out - it just caught my attention. Five, six minutes later, we heard all these emergency sirens."
And Spencer also saw "a huge column of black smoke. And I knew -- that guy crashed his plane. And it was just - I figured it was somebody coming for the eclipse, you know -- likes flying. And then -- tragedy, you know. I felt sick."
The plane hit the south side of the canyon, sparking a brushfire.
"It kind of nosed in and it got lower," said Diego Lopez, a young witness. "I thought it was going to land right there," he said, pointing to a grassy field.
"I yelled, 'A plane just crashed! A plane just crashed.," he said. "It was crazy."
The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board was advised and are investigating, the deputy said.
Adkins, who is a pilot, said he didn't expect such a tragedy, even with the increase in traffic related to the eclipse.
"I've flown out of this airport myself for the last 25 years, and it's a very safe airport," Adkins told NewsChannel 21. "And the way that they have security and air traffic control today for this big event, the big eclipse event, I am a bit surprised that that this happened."