ST. PAUL, Ore. – Investigators looking into a collision over an Oregon state park that killed a former state trooper said Wednesday that one of the two planes was flown by a flight instructor and student.
Authorities said they aren’t sure whether the teacher or the pupil was controlling the aircraft when it collided Tuesday afternoon with a plane flown by 58-year-old Stephen Watson, a retired state trooper.
Watson was killed when his single-engine plane broke apart and slammed into the ground near Wilsonville. Investigators believe Watson was alone in the plane.
Instructor Travis Thompson, 31, of Beaverton, and 23-year-old student Henrik Murer Kalberg landed in a field and walked away from the aircraft without injuries. Their twin-engine 1978 Piper PA-44-180 was registered to Hillsboro Aviation outside Portland. Executives didn’t respond to requests for comment.
“We’re dealing with a tragic situation at this point and we’re thankful no one on the ground was injured,” said National Transportation Safety Board lead investigator Josh Cawthra.
Watson’s aircraft, a single-engine 1966 Beech Bonanza V35, broke apart after the collision, strewing debris over a 1 1/2-square- mile area in and around Champoeg State Park, about 25 miles south of Portland, Cawthra said.
Investigators aren’t sure whether the pilots were in communication with each other or with air traffic controllers when the planes collided. The weather was clear and sunny.
Investigators said the tail of Watson’s aircraft was found about a mile from the rest of the plane. The nose of the training aircraft was sheared off.
Witnesses told investigators both planes were flying level at the time of the impact, but authorities haven’t verified that information, Cawthra said.
Watson retired from the Oregon State Police in 2002 after a 26-year career in the Astoria and Tillamook offices. He was working as the assistant director of public safety at the University of Portland.