ALBANY — A small airplane that crashed in the Willamette Valley appeared to have broken up in flight, witnesses said.
The two-seater crashed Monday afternoon near Albany, killing the two people aboard.
Investigators believe the 16-year-old silver aircraft departed the Lebanon Municipal Airport shortly before 3:30 p.m. on a pleasure flight.
Witnesses reported seeing the plane turn left over Oregon Highway 226 when part of a wing separated and fell on the highway, Linn County Undersheriff Bruce Riley said.
Jenissa Currey, 17, was driving home from Scio High School when she noticed something falling from the sky.
“It took me a few seconds to realize what it was," she told the Albany Democrat-Herald. “It had only one wing on the plane, and it wasn’t fully put together."
The plane fell into a cow pasture about 400 yards from the road.
Tom Bishop of Lacomb, who was on his way to work in Albany, arrived at the scene minutes after the crash. There were no wings on what was left of the plane, he said.
“It was just a big ball," he said. “All you could see was the tail fin on it, to basically tell you it was a plane."
Killed in the crash were 45-year-old Jeff Earl “Tebo" Kropf of Halsey and 46-year-old Timothy Dean Carter of Portland, the pilot.
The plane was described as an RV-6.
Gus Funnell, a technical support employee at Van’s Aircraft of Aurora, which uses the RV label on its kit planes, said the company was searching its records Tuesday.
It appeared the plane was built from plans rather than a kit, and its serial number wasn’t in the company records, he said.
The RV-6 model hasn’t been sold for 11 years, although builders are still working on some of them, Funnell said.
Such planes are labeled experimental because the Federal Aviation Administration classifies them that way, he said.
Flight instructor Jerry Wilken of Albany told the Democrat-Herald he flies an RV-6 and describes them as strong and good at handling both fast and slow speeds, making them a popular small aircraft design.
“I don’t know what could have happened," Wilken said. “Wings shouldn’t fall off of them. They’re built just amazingly strong. ... The way it’s put together, it’s hard for me to believe a wing would just fall off."