Family and friends are mourning the loss of a prominent Western timber industry official who died when his chartered plane crashed in the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness, 30 miles southwest of Libby, Mont.
Intermountain Forest Industry Association spokesman Ken Kohli, 35, of Coeur d’Alene was pronounced dead at the scene Friday.
Also killed was wildlife expert Seth Diamond, 34, of Missoula and pilot Al Hall, 61, of Hayden Lake, Idaho.
The single-engine aircraft sheared the tops off two 50-foot trees before it smashed into the sloping grass and granite of Crowell Mountain.
“It’s like he took a dive straight in,” said Lt. Daryl Anderson of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department.
Joe Hinson, executive vice president of the forest industry group, learned the news Friday night after an IFIA secretary telephoned him about the fire forest crews had spotted.
“I knew something was terribly wrong when the secretary called me,” Hinson said.
At that time, the men were already two hours overdue.
“You hope against hope that two and two don’t come together,” Hinson said. “This time, they did.”
Not much was left of the Piper Cherokee PA28. Authorities said the bodies were burned beyond recognition.
A U.S. Forest Service employee spotted smoke on the mountain from a lookout tower around 9 a.m., when the wreck is believed to have occurred, said Forest Service dispatcher Juli Hopfer in Libby.
A search-and-rescue team flew to the crash site by helicopter. They hiked about a mile before discovering the crash had sparked a fire in a sparsely-wooded area, Anderson said.
Hinson said Kohli and Diamond were on their way to Libby to take pictures of timber sales - trips made a few times a month by IFIA employees.
“For us, it’s just a huge (loss),” Hinson said. “They were both extremely talented and energetic folks.
Kohli, the group’s communications manager, leaves three children - Kyle, 8, Lauren, 6, and Luke, 6 months old - and his wife, Susan, 33.
“He was a blessing in my life and my children’s life,” Susan Kohli said of her husband. “He will always be with us.”
Chris Cheeley, Ken Kohli’s brother-in-law, said the family is grateful for an outpouring of community support in the wake of the tragedy.
“He was a great guy,” Cheeley said.
Diamond was the manager of wildlife issues for IFIA and a former Forest Service wildlife biologist. He is survived by his wife Carol, 35, and their three children: 2-month-old Jessie; stepson Kale, 12; and stepdaughter Laura, 8.
Carol Diamond described her husband of two years as a lover of the outdoors - and a passionate man who lived life with a sense of purpose.
“He had passion for his family, for his work, for his friends,” she said. “His mission in life was to do positive work in the world.”
Jim English, president of Idaho Forest Industries, which employed Hall, said the pilot “was a friend to anyone who knew him.
“He had more experience than any pilot I’ve ever known,” English added.
Hall had a wife and two children, English said.
The crash and resulting fire prevented the crew from getting to the mountain Friday, said Gini Bright, a duty officer with the Federal Aviation Administration in Renton, Wash. Investigators from the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board examined the wreckage Saturday.
The owner of the plane, Hans Dyroy of Hayden Lake, told a Coeur d’Alene reporter Friday that it had recently passed a routine safety inspection by the National Transportation Safety Board.
Memorial services for Kohli will be at 4 p.m. Monday at Coeur d’Alene Bible church. Services for Diamond will be at 2 p.m. Tuesday at Missoula’s Garden City Chapel.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Putsata Reang Staff writer Staff writer Ward Sanderson contributed to this report.
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