Friends anxious to find Vancouver pilot missing flying over Colu - KPTV - FOX 12

Friends anxious to find Vancouver pilot missing flying over Columbia River

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VANCOUVER, WA (KPTV) -

Someone reported seeing a plane go down in the Columbia River Wednesday afternoon, and as of later Thursday, the plane and those aboard are still missing.

The World War II era plane and its pilot, John McKibbin, are fixtures at Pearson Airfield in Vancouver.

Now the pilot of the AT6 military trainer is missing, along with Irene Mustain, who was on board, planning to spread her husband's ashes along the coast.

It is a tough day at the air field for many friends of McKibbin, like George Welsh.

“It’s difficult. We don't know any answers,” he said. “I can't imagine why the airplane went down, so we just don't know. We just wait to see what's discovered.”

Clatsop County sheriff's deputies and the coast guard spent Thursday searching the Columbia River, where the plane is believed to have gone down.

Deputies located some oil spots in the water Wednesday, but since then have seen nothing.

Lee Donham spoke with McKibbin before took off yesterday, and said McKibbin had a plan in case the weather got bad.

“To the coast, it looked deteriorating,” he explained. “He told me if he couldn't make it to the coast, he'd just scatter the ashes in the river.”

Donham started to worry when McKibbin didn't return. He called the FAA to report him missing.

“I came back at 6:30 and he still wasn't back. I said, ‘this is it,’” Donham said. “So I went to his wife's house and said, ‘Have you heard from John?’ She said no, she knew something was wrong.”

Friends said McKibbin is an experienced and safety oriented pilot, who enjoys helping others.

A one-time high school teacher, McKibbin served two terms in the state legislature and three terms as a Clark County commissioner.

The former president of the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, McKibbin currently serves as the president of Identity Clark County, a non-profit.

“He was a very good leader,” Welsh said. “He could get people inspired on projects and good things and that's what he did”

Donham echoed the sentiment.

“John was a great guy, well respected in the community.”

The Clatsop County sheriff said deputies conducted a grid search Thursday and used sonar equipment, but the river was too rough for the dive team to get into the water.

They will start searching again Friday morning, and as long as weather conditions cooperate, they plan to deploy the dive team, and hopefully find answers for the loved ones of those missing.

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