LA GRANDE — The name of the pilot who died in a Sunday plane crash southwest of La Grande has been released by the Union County Sheriff's Office.
The victim was David Emery Koeppen, 82, of Fruitland, Idaho, according to Union County Sheriff Boyd Rasmussen in a news release. Koeppen was flying from Kennewick, Washington, to Ontario on Sunday when he "apparently got off course'' Capt. Craig Ward of the Union County Sheriff's Office told the La Grande Observer on Thursday, and his plane crashed at Elk Willow Springs southwest of La Grande.
The UCSO's Search and Rescue unit was notified at 11:23 p.m. Tuesday that Koeppen's plane was overdue and may have crashed. A search was launched at that time, one coordinated with the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center.
Civil Air Patrol radar data was compiled and a forensic examination of its radar track was conducted. The radar track appeared to terminate at or near Elk Willow Springs outside La Grande. Life Flight flew into the early morning hours of Wednesday and attempted to locate the crash site using night vision equipment, according to the UCSO news release.
A ground search was started on Wednesday at 8 a.m. by the Union County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue unit. Two and a half hours later the the Oregon Air National Guard, using a Chinook helicopter, initiated a search in the general area.
At 2 p.m. the Civil Air Patrol arrived to search the air using a fixed wing aircraft. At 2:19 p.m. the Civil Air Patrol crew spotted plane wreckage. Moments later the Chinook helicopter was overhead and is crew verified the plane wreckage.
The Chinook helicopter hovered and maintained its position over the wreckage and sent GPS coordinates to ground search units. At 2:26 p.m., ground search units arrived at the wreckage site.
The U.S. Forest Service was then contacted and five people from it then created an access route to the wreckage site.
The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration will be investigating the crash.
The type of plane Koeppen was flying has not been released but according to a preliminary FAA report the pilot Koeppen had a 1968 PA-32-300 fixed-wing single-engine Piper aircraft registered in his name.
Radar data indicates that Koeppen's plane crashed after making a rapid descent from an altitude of 6,600 feet.