Teams plan search for body before storms hit

HAPPY CAMP, Calif. — Search teams plan to scour the steep hillside where a Medford-based plane crashed Saturday afternoon, trying to find the pilot's body before expected storms bring more rain and even snow, the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office reported.

Parts of the Socata plane flown by 84-year-old Alonzo "Lonie" Edward Mullin of Medford have been found in the forest south of Happy Camp, but teams want to recover remains so they can confirm the pilot's identity, sheriff's spokeswoman Susan Gravenkamp said. FAA reports indicate the pilot, believed to be Mullin, was the only person on board the aircraft at the time of the fatal crash.

Searchers on Sunday clambered on hands and knees through dense brush that covers a steep slope, estimated to be a 70 percent pitch, Gravenkamp said. Although cloudy weather limited visibility, search crews found both wings with the landing wheels in a locked down position, the engine, the fuselage, parts of the control panel, and other smaller pieces of the airplane, articles of clothing, the pilot's cell phone, wallet and other personal items in a large debris field which stretches for well over a mile. No crash impact site had been found; however, it appeared unlikely the pilot could have survived the catastrophic incident, search experts reported.

Two dogs trained to track people by scent were brought in from Josephine County Sunday but the extreme conditions prevented them from searching, the sheriff's department news release said on Monday.

The ground search planned for today will focus on the Titus Ridge area, where witnesses reported hearing the plane go down Sunday afternoon, Gravenkamp said.

Mullin reportedly had taken off alone from Palm Springs, Calif., at 8:30 a.m. Saturday. He reported having trouble descending through the clouds in Northern California at about 1:30 p.m. The aircraft then dropped off radar and lost radio contact over Happy Camp. The Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office also received several calls at about that time from Happy Camp residents reporting a possible plane crash south of town.

Search and rescue teams from across the region began looking for the downed plane from the air and the ground. A Burl Brim helicopter from Jackson County found scattered debris Sunday afternoon.

The website of Jet Center Medford, where Mullin kept his plane, has a feature article about him, describing how Mullin grew up on a farm near Yreka and served in the Army during World War II, taking part in some of the Battle of the Bulge, then working as an infantry scout following the German retreat across Europe. After the war he built a business as an engineering and construction contractor in the Bay Area.

He and his wife, Eva, lived at the Rogue Valley Manor.

Always an avid motorcyclist, he earned a pilot's license upon retirement 20 years ago,. He was known around the Medford airport for riding up on his Honda Goldwing to fly to local destinations or to Palm Springs to visit his daughter. Gravenkamp said the Mullins also have a daughter in Fort Jones, Calif.

Anita Burke is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach her at 541-776-4485 or aburke@mailtribune.com.

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