Brookings, Ore. — The National Transportation Safety Board has released its final report regarding a plane crash off the coast of Brookings that killed a Grants Pass man and two teens. The report indicates the plane likely crashed into the ocean after pilot John Belnap became disoriented in the dark.
“It’s one of those tragedies that we see in the news all the time,” Dr. Jim Novak said, a witness to the crash. “I really felt terrible for obviously, the family and the kids because this was an exciting trip for them.”
In the NTSB’s concluding report, Novak was one of the only witnesses. In that moment, he had no idea the gravity of what he had heard.
“We’d been to Crescent City to watch the fireworks with some friends,” Novak said.
The report indicates the night was moonless, and the plane was scheduled to fly from Brookings to Grants Pass at 11 p.m. Novak had just gotten home and was getting ready for bed.
“I was just kinda starting to go to sleep, and I heard an airplane take off,” Novak said. “All of a sudden the engine cut, no more sound, and I assumed he was landing.”
It wasn’t until the next day that Novak began putting the pieces together.
“We did some checking and we saw on the news that a plane was lost, overdue, and then the child’s backpack had floated up on shore, and they were still searching for it, and the boats went out many times,” Novak said.
Belnap’s log book was recovered from the crash area two miles off the coast of Brookings. Notes made by the NTSB reveal Belnap’s night flying experience was limited at 23 hours total. The other 184 hours he had under his belt were during the day.
The report notes external visual cues were not easily seen, and Belnap’s lack of recent night flying likely caused him to become disoriented, prompting the crash. Now knowing the truth, Novak looks back on that evening in a different light.
“Because I didn’t worry about it, just something that happened, but in playing it back, I said definitely, I never heard the engine start again,” Novak said. “It just stopped.”
The report also indicates the main wreckage of the plane was never recovered. It’s unclear if any mechanical problems were a factor in the crash. To see the full report, click here.