A two-seater RV6 experimental airplane tumbled from the sky Monday afternoon, crashing near Crabtree and killing the two men aboard.
The victims have been identified as Jeff Earl “Tebo” Kropf, 45, of Halsey and Timothy Dean Carter, 46, of Portland.
Carter, the pilot, was the owner of the aircraft and had a private pilot license. Kropf, the passenger, had a commercial pilot license.
Both Kropf and Carter died upon impact, Linn County Undersheriff Bruce Riley said in a statement.
Their bodies were taken to Fisher Funeral Home in Albany.
Investigators believe the 16-year-old silver aircraft departed the Lebanon Municipal Airport shortly before 3:30 pm on a pleasure flight.
Witnesses reported seeing the plane eastbound, crossing Brewster Road, banking to the left over Highway 226. While turning to the left, part of the wing became separated from the plane and fell onto Highway 226 north of Brewster Road, Riley said.
The plane came to rest several thousand feet south of the intersection in a field.
Jenissa Currey, 17, said she was driving home from Scio High School, where she is a junior, when she noticed something falling from the sky out of the corner of her eye. It ended up in the middle of a cow pasture about 400 yards from the road.
“It took me a few seconds to realize what it was,” Currey said. “In the back of my mind, I knew it was a plane because what else could it be, but it had only one wing on the plane, and it wasn’t fully put together.”
Currey said it looked as though the plane had broken up somehow while still in flight.
“There were no wings, or if there were they were wrapped around it. It was just a big ball,” said Tom Bishop of Lacomb, who came on the scene on his way to work in Albany minutes after the crash. “All you could see was the tail fin on it, to basically tell you it was a plane.”
The intersection of Highway 226 and Brewster Road was closed for four hours during the investigation.
‘He loved to fly’
Friends and family of Kropf, known to most people in the mid-valley as Tebo, are clear about one thing: he never wanted to stop flying.
Kropf, known as Tim Corban at one point, was the office manager at LebanAir Aviation and the coordinator for Chapter 1524 of the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles flight program; the guy who put more than 200 youngsters in the air last year and was well on his way to topping that record.
“He loved the Lord, he loved his family and he loved to fly,” brother-in-law Alvie Shrock of Brownsville said late Monday.
His first flight was a ride at age 9, in a float plane off a lake near Florence. He had his first lesson at age 16 at Daniels Field in Harrisburg. He became a private pilot in 1996.
His dream was to share the experience, particularly with children who may not see flying as a realistic goal. He also gave a free flight this past January to Paul Miller of Sweet Home, age 101.
“Tebo was such a Renaissance guy. He did photography and flew airplanes and played music and just was an amazing person,” flight instructor Jerry Wilken of Albany said. “Tebo was doing what he loved to do.”
Wilken also flies a RV6. The planes are strong and good at handling both fast and slow speeds, making them one of the most popular small aircraft designs around, he said.
“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.”
Democrat-Herald reporters Steve Lathrop and Gazette-Times City Editor Theresa Novak contributed to this story.