PHILOMATH, Ore. -- Two men conducting a count of migratory geese and ducks for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service died in a plane crash Sunday. Search crews located the wreckage of the small plane and the bodies of the pilot and a passenger early Monday west of Philomath.
The Federal Aviation Administration was on scene Monday and the National Transportation Safety Board planned to arrive Tuesday, Benton County Sheriff Diana Simpson said.
The exact location of the plane crash is not being disclosed at this time pending the investigation by federal authorities.
Crews found the boides of pilot Vernon Ray Bentley, 52, of Blodgett, Ore., and passenger David Sherwood Pitkin, 49, of Bandon, Ore., early Monday morning.
The two were conducting the mid-winter bird survey on ducks and geese along the Oregon Coast, according to David Patte with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Those numbers are used to help govern waterfowl hunting in Oregon, Patte said.
"They conduct migratory bird surveys on a routine basis about two to three times a year using small aircraft flying fairly low and taking pictures and doing counts," Patte said.
Bentley was employed as a pilot-biologist with the Department of Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service, based out of Corvallis. Pitkin, a former Fish and Wildlife employee who had worked in Oregon and Hawaii, was working as a contract observer on the flight.
"It's a small group of pilot-biologists that we have in the Fish and Wildlife Service," Patte said. "I can't imagine there are more than 30 of them nationwide.
"I know that Ray (Bentley) was an avid waterfowl hunter who just and found his dream job," Patte added. "He just loved everything to do with wildlife conservation and hunting."
The news hit the Fish and Wildlife Service on Martin Luther King Day, a federal holiday.
Search and rescue crews and sheriff's deputies started a search around 8 p.m. Sunday after airport officials in Corvallis reported the plan was overdue.
At about 2 a.m. Monday morning, a REACH helicopter was able to fly the route indicated in the flight plan and locate a signal from the emergency beacon located on the airplane.
That information narrowed the search to an area west of Philomath. Search and Rescue personnel and sheriff's deputies continued to search the area, finally locating the wreckage of the plane about 8:30 a.m. Monday morning.
About 50 people assisted in the search.