MADRAS, Ore. (KOIN) — After initially believing 2 people died in a small plane crash near the Madras airport Saturday afternoon, officials now say only one person died, the pilot, who was the only person on the plane.
The small airplane did not make it to the airport just before 2 p.m. Saturday and crashed about a mile away, down in the Willow Creek Canyon Area. The impact sparked a small brush fire, which Jefferson County Fire crews extinguished quickly.
The pilot was later identified as Mark James Rich from Menlo Park, California. Authorities said he died when his 2002 fixed wing, single-engine aircraft crashed in the canyon. He was in his late 50s.
“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,” Jefferson County Sheriff Jim Adkins said in a statement Sunday morning.
“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,” he said.
The aircraft was engulfed by fire and was completely destroyed.
“I heard the plane coming in and I heard it sputtering some — which is not uncommon, we hear it quite often, so I didn’t really think much about it — and then a few seconds later I heard the impact,” Madras resident Michele Quinn told KOIN 6 News.
Visitors who were golfing nearby saw the plane take sharp turn before it crashed into the canyon.
A farmer was the first person on the scene and volunteer firefighters were called upon to help fight the fire that started when the plane crashed.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the plane was a single-engine, homebuilt Wheeler Express that was on its way to the Madras airport when it crashed.
Investigators are working to determine why the plane crashed.
More than 200,000 people are expected in Madras for the solar eclipse on August 21. CBS News reports the Madras Municipal Airport normally gets three flights an hour, but as thousands flood to the small town, planes have been arriving every three minutes.