WILSONVILLE, Ore. - A man who was killed when the plane he was piloting crashed following a mid-air collision has been identified as a former Oregon State Police commander.
Stephen Watson, 58, was a 26-year veteran with the Oregon State Police. He first started as a trooper in Astoria in 1976 and in 1988, he transferred as a sergeant to the Tillamook office, where he spent the rest of his career.
Watson retired in 2002 and was currently working at the University of Portland as an Assistant Director of Public Safety. Students and faculty were notified of his death.
During a news conference on Wednesday, Lt. Gregg Hastings with the Oregon State Police described Watson as a quiet, calm, confident leader with a smile that lit up the room.
Watson leaves behind a wife and two adult daughters.
The mid-air collision that took the OSP veteran's life happened Tuesday afternoon over Champoeg State Park near Newberg.
The debris field spread out over a mile and a half and the tail of the plane that was piloted by Watson was found about 3/4 of a mile away from the rest of his plane's wreckage. One piece of debris did hit a vehicle but there was only minor damage.
All of the main components of the two aircrafts have been recovered.
Two people who were on board the airplane that collided with Watson's survived. The Yamhill County Sheriff's Office identified them as 23-year-old Henrik Murer Kalberg of Hillsboro and 31-year-old Travis Thompson of Beaverton. Thompson was Kalberg's instructor on the flight.
"It is unclear at this time who was in control of the aircraft at the time of the collision," Yamhill County Sheriff Jack Crabtree said in a statement. "The Seminole made an emergency landing in a field near Champoeg State Park and both pilots declined medical assistance."
Investigators from the National Transportation Board and the FAA will be on the scene for a few days looking into what happened.
At this point investigators believe Watson was alone in his plane, despite some reports that there was a second person. Officials are continuing to search the area just in case.
Investigators also believe that both planes were in level flight when they hit each other.
A preliminary report is expected within five days but a full report will likely take months.
A Few of the 911 Calls
DISPATCHER: What's the location of your emergency?
CALLER: I'm looking across over by Champoeg Park and I'm looking to the south and I think a plane just, must have been mid-air or something. I just saw planes disintegrate in the sky.
DISPATCHER: Are you calling about the plane crash?
CALLER: Yes, I just saw it. I did not see the plane but I heard it hit the ground. It's right in front of our property.
DISPATCHER: What is the address of your emergency?
CALLER: Uh, I'm not entirely sure. Somewhere on the Newberg side of Wilsonville Road an airplane just went down hard and blew up.
Champoeg State Park will be closed until further notice. Over a dozen campers were staying there when the planes went down and they are being relocated.