The wreckage of a light plane that carried three men to their deaths on Dec. 1 was removed Thursday from Lake Roosevelt.
A floating crane hoisted the mangled aircraft from the frigid water 2-1/2 miles north of Kettle Falls as though it were a giant marlin on a fisherman’s line.
The plane was taken to the Colville Airport, where it will remain locked in a hangar for a few days until it is released to its owner.
There was confusion Thursday over who the owner is. Officials said Colville area resident Shawn Arnold has an ownership interest along with the estate of pilot Richard Donley, the registered owner who died in the crash.
“Mr. Arnold had gained an interest in the plane by doing some mechanical work,” Stevens County Sheriff Craig Thayer said.
Arnold could not be reached for comment.
Officials said the uninsured Rockwell Commander Series 112 still has salvage value.
Columbia Navigation owner Eric Weatherman said he feels sorry for Arnold and plans to donate Thursday’s salvage operation that included a barge-mounted crane and two tugboats. He said he hopes the plane’s owner, whomever that is, will reciprocate with a donation to the Tri-County Divers Club.
Three members of the club attached a line to the wreckage so Weatherman and a four-man crew could reel it in.
The water temperature was in the mid-40s, and snow flurries and a chilly wind added to the cold. Diver Dave Shoemaker went aboard one of the tugs to warm up after becoming so chilled his hands wouldn’t move.
Officials say almost all the wreckage was recovered. The engine, which they feared had broken away from the plane, was found folded under the fuselage.
Two agents of the Federal Aviation Administration examined and photographed the wreckage as part of a joint investigation with the National Transportation Safety Board. They declined to comment on what their examination may have revealed.
“It’ll probably be another three or four months before our agency rules on the probable cause of the accident,” said Jeff Guzzetti, the Seattlebased NTSB air safety investigator in charge of the probe.
He said he has some ideas about the cause, but is forbidden to say anything until the agency’s five-member board in Washington, D.C., issues a decision. He said his report to the board will cover interviews with witnesses, police reports and a study of the wreckage.
Thayer said the Sheriff’s Department is still trying to find out why Donley, who has a home in northern Stevens County and a restaurant in Kent, Wash., was carrying two passengers with ties to motorcycle gangs. The fact that those onboard left a dog in a van at the Colville Airport suggested the flight was a local excursion.
Donley, 45, and his passengers - Stevens County residents Michael Wooster, 41, and Daniel Schoonover, 47 - all died. Some law enforcement sources say the plane may have been buzzing the home of another biker shortly before the crash.
The plane was flying north along Lake Roosevelt near the town of Marcus when it banked left and dove toward the reservoir. A witness said the engine was running normally when the left wing hit the water.
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