Federal officials on Saturday scoured a Thorndyke Creek ravine where an eyewitness reported that a small aircraft “just dropped from the sky” Thursday, Dec. 29, and crashed, killing four people.
Michael Haas, Jefferson County prosecuting attorney and coroner, identified the victims as Sequim pharmacist and pilot Jon R. Bernhoft, 63, his fiancee Carla Parke, 61, and her grandchildren — a 9-year-old grandson and a 5-year-old granddaughter, both of Bellingham.
Shane Stevenson, a detective for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, said officials from the Federal Aviation Administration and National Traffic Safety Board were working to extract the wreckage from the ravine Saturday, Dec. 31.
“Everything is centered on getting the wreckage out of there,” he said.
Stevens didn’t expect officials to know what caused the plane to crash for weeks or possibly months.
Bernhoft was listed as co-owner with Gerald E. Lematta of Sequim of the four-seat Cessna 182, according to FAA records.
Autopsies are tentatively set for Tuesday in Kitsap County, Hass said.
The plane’s wreckage “was not spread out all over, or anything,” Jefferson County Undersheriff Joe Nole said Friday.
An eyewitness said there was no fire.
“Someone described it to me like it just dropped from the sky,” Nole said.
The aircraft crashed in the woods roughly a half mile east of Toandos Road near the intersection with Coyle Road, east of Quilcene, Nole said.
The plane was found 40 feet in a ravine on Thordyke Creek.
“It was rough terrain,” Nole said.
According to state Department of Transportation officials, the plane took off from Boeing Field in Seattle bound for Port Angeles just after 6 p.m. on Thursday.
John Nutter, director finance and administration for the Port of Port Angeles, said Bernhoft was not renting a hangar at the port’s William R. Fairchild International Airport facility.
The closest airport to Fairchild is Sequim Valley Airport.
The Cessna lost contact with air traffic control at roughly 6:44 p.m. Thursday.
The crash was called in by a resident of Coyle Peninsula just after 7 p.m. Thursday night, Nole said.
Sheriff’s deputies were assisted in their search by fire personnel from Quilcene Fire Rescue and, later, a crew from the Transportation.
Transportation officials had been contacted by the FAA after air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane on Thursday night.
The Transportation crew used an emergency transmitter locator to get the general location of the plane, Nole said.
The wreckage was not found until 8:16 a.m. Friday by a Transportation crew along with personnel from East Jefferson Fire Rescue and a U.S. Navy helicopter from Whidbey Island.
Nole said the Sheriff’s Department is providing security at the crash site while FAA and NTSB officials investigate the crash.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at email@example.com.
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 55052, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reporter Jesse Major contributed to this story.