Three dead in plane crash

By KARL SCHWEIZER

Herald Writer

GOLD BAR – A hiker reported he thought he heard a plane crash Saturday in the foothills near Gold Bar.

A search that day came up empty.

But four days later, after a more extensive search, a downed plane was found with a dead pilot and two dead passengers.

Officials weren’t sure a plane really had crashed, so the search Saturday wasn’t very extensive.

But Monday, family members of the trio from Spokane called to say their plane was overdue from a trip to the Arlington Fly-In Saturday.

Still, only one plane went out and searched the area Monday.

It wasn’t until Tuesday that a more-extensive search took place, as more than 20 planes flew over the area. A heavy cloud cover hindered that effort.

Finally, on Wednesday, Snohomish County crews were called in.

A Snohomish County sheriff’s helicopter found the wreckage in a remote, wooded area on the east side of Haystack Mountain, about three miles southeast of Gold Bar, said sheriff spokeswoman Jan Jorgensen.

The plane was a Cessna 180 carrying three Spokane retirees, said Karl Moore, search and rescue coordinator for the Aviation Division of the state Department of Transportation.

The three men aboard the missing plane have been identified as James Bleasner, 55, the plane’s owner and the pilot for Saturday’s flight; Peter Anest Sr., 78, who flew in World War II and was a longtime flight instructor; and his brother, Sam Anest, believed to be in his early 70s.

A recovery team was on its way to the crash site shortly after the plane was discovered.

Moore had notified relatives of the victims, some local and others in Spokane, and said they were "doing as well as can be expected."

The helicopter crew made the grim discovery by flying low enough to blow dense foliage aside, revealing the plane below, Jorgensen said.

The crash site is far from any roads, and two recovery crews had to be flown into the area. The crews rappelled to the wreckage, Jorgensen said.

Up to 85 searchers at a time had combed the hills and mountains between Arlington and Spokane in an effort to find the men, Moore said.

Moore said the downed plane did have an emergency locating transmitter, but it did not function after the crash.

Searchers got a break Tuesday when a man reported hearing what sounded like an airplane circling near Duffy Lake about 2 p.m. Saturday, followed by a backfire noise. Investigators now suspect that noise was the sound of the plane’s impact, Jorgensen said.

It now falls on National Transportation Safety Board investigators to determine why the plane went down, Moore said. The pilot was experienced, and the weather, while cloudy, didn’t stop numerous other small airplanes from navigating the mountains successfully after the Arlington show, he said.

The safety investigators will examine the scene today and will probably determine whether the wreckage can be removed. They may also attempt to remove the victims’ remains. Searchers were unable to recover the remains Wednesday because of failing light and the remoteness of the crash site.

Fire District 5 (Sultan and Startup) Chief Merlin Halverson said someone reported hearing a plane crash Saturday.

"It’s a large, mountainous area out there. They’d heard a plane crash and didn’t know where it was," he said.

About 2 p.m., three men who had been hiking in the mountains met with firefighters Halverson had sent to check out the report. The men had been hiking on Forest Service Road 62, an old logging road, said Eric Andrews, Gold Bar fire chief, who met with the men.

"A man came into the station and said he heard a plane and thought he heard a crash," Andrews said. "Evidently he must have."

"His other two buddies didn’t hear it," he said. "He said he heard a plane, and he heard it flying back and forth like it was in trouble. He thought it was dangerous because the cloud cover was down. There was no place on the ground to search because this gentlemen had no idea which direction or how far away it was. There’s just miles and miles of timber."

The crash site appears to be about eight to 10 miles from where the man was hiking.

The man said it took the trio a few hours to hike down and report the crash.

Firefighters turned the information over to the sheriff’s office, and a search helicopter went up in the area, but didn’t find anything, he said.

Lt. Eric Stiemert of Monroe, a volunteer with the Civil Air Patrol, spent almost four hours Tuesday and seven hours Wednesday helping with the air search.

Last year, he gave up three weeks of vacation on searches and said the people he works with wonder why he devotes so much time to the volunteer activity.

"If it were my family in an overdue aircraft situation, I’d want everybody out looking for them," Stiemert said.

He added that the relatives of the Spokane pilots may have lost some time by conducting a short search of their own before contacting authorities Monday.

"If there’s any doubt, call the authorities right away," Stiemert said.

A search began Monday, two days after the men had left Arlington, apparently bound for Spokane. No flight plan was filed, although the pilots are believed to have left Arlington about 2 p.m.

The crew of a Snohomish County sheriff’s helicopter spotted the wreckage about 3:30 p.m. Wednesday about 30 miles southeast of the Arlington airport.

Radar records indicated the plane had gone down near the site where the wreckage was found, Moore said. By air, the crash site was about 10 minutes from the airport, Moore said.

The pilots of more than 20 private planes that had been taking part in the search had focused on the area, which is west of Stevens Pass and near 5,979-foot Mount Index.

Herald reporters Kathy Korengel, Cathy Logg, Steve Powell and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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