Three men are believed to have died Monday afternoon when a small single-engine plane crashed into Lake Roosevelt about 2-1/2 miles north of here near the town of Marcus.
Stevens County sheriff’s divers recovered one body and located another before darkness forced them to quit searching about 5 p.m.
Sheriff Craig Thayer declined to name any of the victims until their relatives have been notified.
But the family of 44-year-old Richard Donley confirmed Monday night that he was piloting the four-seat North American Aviation Series 112 when it went down.
Donley’s sister, Laura Steele of Kent, Wash., said the family was notified by the Stevens County Sheriff’s Department that three people were on board and there are believed to be no survivors.
Thayer said the man whose body was removed Monday was a resident of Williams Lake in the Colville area and was a passenger in the aircraft.
Donley divided his time between a home in the Onion Creek area in northern Stevens County and Kent, near Seattle, where his family owns the Cave Man Kitchens restaurant, Steele said. Donley was in Colville for Thanksgiving.
“He was a good pilot,” Steele said. “He flies back and forth all the time. He knew the exact route.”
Thayer said a buoy was attached to the wreckage, and the recovery operation is to resume this morning with assistance from the Federal Aviation Administration.
The plane apparently broke up when it struck the surface and was “pretty mangled” when it came to rest on the sandy bottom in about 40 feet of water, the sheriff said. Aircraft identification papers were among the debris that floated to the surface, he said.
Witnesses reported the crash about 2:40 p.m.
“I was driving northbound right here, and I saw the aircraft bank left and head right down toward the river,” Marcus resident Mack Stanhope said as he and sheriff’s officials watched the search operation from the shore along state Highway 25.
“It appeared for all the world as though it was going to buzz the lake, but the left wing was a little bit low and it went right into the river with a really big splash.”
Stanhope reported the crash on his citizens band radio about the same time another witness called the Sheriff’s Department from the St. Paul Mission near Kettle Falls.
Stanhope said he watched the plane when it banked left off its northbound course because he thought it might be one of the pontoon craft that occasionally land on the reservoir. “But it had no pontoons, and it went straight in.”
Stanhope said he could hear the engine as the plane approached the water. “It appeared to be under power. It didn’t appear to be missing or in trouble.”
Colville Mayor Duane Scott, a pilot, said the plane is one that has been based at the municipal airport off and on for a number of years.
Harley Howell, a mechanic for Colville Aviation, said he saw the plane take off shortly before it crashed. The engine sounded fine, he said.
Howell said he saw at least three men in the plane and thought there might have been a fourth. He said he doesn’t know who was on board, but he believes it was the owner and some friends.
Howell said he didn’t know the men but said people at the airport think all of them were Stevens County residents.
The pilot appeared to have trouble maneuvering the plane off the runway when it arrived in Colville on Friday or Saturday night, Howell said. He said no plan was filed for Monday’s flight, apparently a local excursion.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Map of crash site