On 23rd March 2016, eyewitnesses saw a plane crash into the Columbia River about a mile north of Pier 39. It was late in the afternoon when the accident happened and the Coast Guard immediately started an aerial search for the missing aircraft. They searched through the next day and then suspended the search in favour of using divers to scour the river bed, for the wreckage.
On 25th March 2016 divers found the aircraft, an AT-6. This aircraft was the trainer version of the American Beechcraft light attack plane. It was privately owned and the bodies of the pilot, identified as John McKibbin, aged 69, of Vancouver, Washington, and his passenger, Irene Mustain, aged 63, of Woodland, were recovered by divers after a complex and technical diving session.
The deaths of these two people were especially poignant as they had flown from Pearson Field Airport in Vancouver to scatter the ashes of Irene Mustain’s late husband, on what would have been his 69th birthday.
The plane was destroyed in the accident and pieces of the wreckage were strewn across the bed of the river. The Clatsop County Sheriff’s Office said, “On March 29, authorities began recovering the airplane from near Astoria’s Pier 39. The Clatsop County Marine Patrol along with an AVTech salvage crew from Kent, Washington, will conduct the recovery utilizing local Astoria cranes and barges from Bergerson Construction. The National Transportation Safety Board has been involved from the day of the crash and also planned to have a person on the scene.”
John McKibbin will be sadly missed and many people attended his vigil. McKibbin was active in politics in Southwest Washington and served two terms as a Democratic representative for the 49th Legislative District seat. He continued his active public service by being elected county commissioner in 1978 and finally left public office in 1990. State Sen. Annette Cleveland said, “John was one of those special, rare people who could reach across divides and disagreements to bring people together. As a trusted and highly respected leader, his desire to serve our community and state was limitless.”
Special salvage equipment would be required to collect all the pieces of the plane from the river bed. Once the wreckage has been salvaged, the investigation into this terrible accident will commence. The cause of the accident is unknown at this time and a full investigation will be carried out by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.