Written by: The Associated Press

Published by: HeraldNet

CORVALLIS, Ore. — A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee and a contractor were killed when their small plane crashed in an Oregon forest.

The plane’s wreckage was found Monday morning after it failed to arrive in Corvallis as scheduled on Sunday, said Benton County Sheriff Diana Benton.

Authorities identified the pilot as Vernon Ray Bentley, 52, a Fish and Wildlife Service employee from Blodgett. His passenger was David Sherwood Pitkin, 59, of Bandon, a former employee who was working as a contractor for the agency.

The two were involved in the agency’s annual midwinter count of migratory birds, said David Patte, an agency spokesman. “You couldn’t meet two finer people,” he told the Gazette-Times newspaper.

“They were really dedicated to the work they did. They loved the migratory bird program.”

The plane, a single-engine Cessna registered to the U.S. Department of the Interior, departed from the coastal city of Newport at about 4 p.m. Sunday, Simpson said. The effort to find the missing aircraft began four hours later, with roughly 50 people assisting the sheriff’s office.

A radio signal from the plane’s locator beacon allowed searchers to narrow the crash site to an area near Philomath. Ground searchers located the wreckage at about 8:30 a.m.

“It’s a heavily forested area, not easy to get to,” said Mary King, emergency program manager for Benton County.

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board will try to determine the cause of the crash.