Four people, including three family members, have been killed in an Oregon plane crash. The fatal small plane crash happened on Friday, April 7, 2017, as a family of three traveled from California to Oregon so their son could tour a university. Also killed in the accident was the pilot of the Piper PA aircraft.
Piper Plane Flew Low Before Crashing
The plane was on route from Van Nuys, California, to Eugene, Oregon, when it crashed in the morning. On board were 42-year-old John A. Zitting, of Thousand Oaks, California, 37-year-old Karen Blackmore Zitting, and their son, 17-year-old John “Brendan” Zitting. Also on the airplane was 67-year-old pilot Mark Gregory Aletky. All four were pronounced dead at the scene.
Autopsies conducted on two of the victims, John Zitting and Mark Aletky, concluded the men died from blunt-force trauma injuries.
The Zitting family had hired Park City Aviation to fly them to Eugene so Brendan could tour the University of Oregon, and they left Van Nuys around 7:22 a.m. Aletky was hired by Park City Aviation to pilot the flight.
Witnesses reportedly told authorities the plane flew low before it crashed into a field near Harrisburg, Oregon, sometime around 10:50 a.m.
“Investigators learned the plane was flying on an instrument and was approaching the Eugene Airport,” a statement from the Linn County Sheriff’s Office reads. “Witnesses in Harrisburg described seeing the plane flying north at a low altitude when, for unknown reasons, it suddenly turned and crashed into a grass field just west of Peoria Road, which is approximately two miles north of Harrisburg.”
For reasons that are not yet clear to investigators, the plane flew north past the Mahlon Sweet Field Airport- the Eugene airport’s formal name-before it crashed.
Families Mourn Plane Crash Victims
The Zitting family had moved to California from Utah seven years ago, and John had started a construction management company called TruNorthe LLC, based in Simi Valley. The company had recently expanded and had around 30 employees.
“We were definitely not expecting this because (John) lived life to the fullest,” John’s brother Mark Zitting, told the Los Angeles Daily News. “He had a yacht, and they spent a lot of time on the ocean when they could. They were all great examples and good people.”
Meanwhile, Mark described Brendan as being at the top of his class and on his swim team.
Joseph Aletky told reporters that even though his father had become a pilot in his 40s, after working as a professional drummer, he had “thousands and thousands” of hours of flight experience in a variety of aircraft and had taken a specific course in flying the single-engine, six-seat Piper PA-46-310P, commonly referred to as a Piper Malibu, that was involved in the crash.
“I can’t understand it,” Joseph told the Daily News. “We’ve had things happen in the air. We’ve dealt with it. He’s not the type to panic. He takes things by the reins and makes sure what needs to get done gets done.”
911 Dispatch Tape Released
The Linn County Sheriff’s Office released a 911 dispatch tape in which a man says he saw the plane crash and was on the way to the scene to try to help. That man, identified in the tape as Loren Later, noted that the weather conditions were bad at the time of the crash.
“Nobody is conscious,” Later says on the tape. “We’re checking to see if there’s a pulse or anything … four people, no pulse … there’s nobody that appears to be alive.” Later also says the cockpit was smashed up and the windshield was splattered with blood.
NTSB/FAA to Investigate Oregon Plane Accident
According to the Sheriff’s Office, both the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) arrived on scene the day of the plane crash to investigate. They will look into whether weather, a plane malfunction or pilot error were factors in the crash.
“We don’t know whether it’s weather-related or mechanical,” said Linn County Sheriff Bruce Riley to The Oregonian. He noted that the high winds could have contributed to the crash.
“[There was] no indication of any issues other than it was flying a little low,” Riley said. “That’s what drew [people’s] attention to it-that it was loud and low.”
Tom Walker, who witnessed the plane crash, said he saw the aircraft flying normally above the treeline when the plane suddenly flipped onto its side, then plummeted into a nosedive.
The Piper PA-46, also known as the Malibu, sells for anywhere from $250,000 to $1.1 million, depending on the year it was built.
Prior to this incident, the last small plane crash in Oregon happened in January on the beach near Cape Blanco State Park. In that case, the pilot had radioed air controllers to alert them that he was losing sight in one eye and needed to land his plane. A nearby Coast Guard helicopter crew searched for the aircraft and found the pilot, who ejected during the crash, had died. Killed in the crash was 90-year-old Raymond J. Wulfenstein.
Small Plane Crash Attorneys
Although they do not get the same media attention as commercial airline accidents, small plane crashes make up 94 percent of all fatal aviation crashes. Small planes typically do not have the same safety features or technologies that can be found on commercial airliners.
If you or a loved one has been harmed in a small plane crash, contact Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman to discuss your case. Our attorneys are experienced in small plane crash investigations and litigation and are available to discuss your options with you.