From the Arizona Daily Star

Searchers find 3 dead in air wreck

By Ignacio Ibarra

A Civil Air Patrol search plane has found the wreckage of a small aircraft, missing since Tuesday, near the crest of a peak in the Whetstone Mountains southeast of Tucson.

The bodies of the pilot, Douglas Koehler of Mequon, Wis.; his brother Rodney of Appleton, Wis.; and Rodney’s 17-year-old son, Christopher, were found yesterday among the widely scattered wreckage of the Cirrus CR20 airplane, said Carol Capas, a spokeswoman for the Cochise County Sheriff’s Department.

Capas said the aircraft, which was equipped with a self-deploying parachute safety system, appeared to have flown into the mountainside and burned after impact in the rugged area.

Searchers had been looking for the airplane since Tuesday, when it left Tucson but failed to reach its destination in Milwaukee.

Capas said a Civil Air Patrol search crew spotted the wreckage and bodies at about noon yesterday and notified the department of the location.

She said efforts to recover the bodies were hampered by the remote location. The aircraft manufacturer also raised concerns about a possible hazardous-materials threat as a result of the fire.

Capas said that subsequent discussions with a representative of the manufacturer, the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration determined that there was no threat.

The bodies are expected to be removed today.

A fuller account than some others:

April 15, 2001 Sunday FINAL EDITION


LENGTH: 733 words

HEADLINE: Bodies found in plane wreckage in Arizona;
Three Milwaukee-bound relatives thought to be aboard aircraft

BYLINE: SHARIF DURHAMS of the Journal Sentinel staff

Three bodies believed to be those of a Mequon resident and two people from Appleton were found Saturday near Tucson, Ariz., in the wreckage of a small plane missing since Tuesday on a flight to Milwaukee, authorities said.

Authorities were withholding the identity of the victims until relatives could be notified.

But relatives Saturday night reported that the three people who were on the missing plane were pilot Douglas Koehler, 54, of Mequon; his brother Rodney Koehler, 47, of Appleton; and Rodney Koehler’s 17- year-old son, Christopher.

The single-engine Cirrus SR20 was destroyed on impact and burned after the crash in a mountainous area 32 miles southeast of Tucson and 12 miles north of Sierra Vista, Ariz., Federal Aviation Administration officials based in Lawndale, Calif., said.

Three bodies were recovered at the crash scene. Local sheriffs deputies were combing the scene Saturday night, and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the cause of the crash, the FAA said.

The plane left Tucson on Tuesday for Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee. It stopped in Albuquerque, N.M., shortly after taking off but was not heard from again, the FAA said.

The Arizona Civil Air Patrol search crew spotted the wreckage about noon Saturday, and some numbers on the plane were still intact to identify it as the missing craft, authorities said.

The FAA had issued a Notice of Missing Aircraft last week for the aircraft.

Douglas Koehler, described by friends as divorced and semi-retired, lived in a condominium in Mequon.

Douglas’ and Rodney’s mother, Ateline Koehler, who moved to Tucson from Michigan 13 years ago, said she learned of the crash Saturday afternoon. She said her two sons and 17-year-old Christopher had embarked on the trip two weeks ago so Christopher could visit a flight school in Prescott, Ariz.

Christopher was very interested in aeronautics and, according to his aunt Kathy Becks of Green Bay, had worked at the Experimental Aircraft Association Fly-in in Oshkosh for several summers as a member of the Civil Air Patrol.

Douglas and Rodney were both computer programmers who hailed from a family with seven other brothers and three sisters, relatives said. Douglas was a big hunter who would often fly his plane to Zumbrota, Minn., to shoot geese and quail with his younger brother, Rick.

Rodney, on the other hand, was a strict vegan. He and his children avoided eating meat, drinking milk and consuming anything that could harm animals in its production.

“He wouldn’t even eat honey,” said his mother, who chuckled at the extremes her son would go to to avoid harming animals. “He figures they kill too many bees harvesting it.”

When talking to Douglas, airplanes were a constant part of his conversation. Friends and family members described him as a good and experienced pilot. He bought his first plane several years ago and later traded it in on a larger model, his mother said.

“He was always reading – not only about planes, but about everything,” she said.

Her son picked up the Cirrus model, his third plane, just over a year ago.

Most of his plane trips were short – jaunts to Kansas or to visit one of his younger brothers in Minnesota, his mother said. Rarely would he make a trip as far away as Arizona.

He told her plenty about the new model and mentioned its safety features, including a manually operated parachute designed to slow the plane if the pilot loses control.

" You’d think it was safe, but he must have smashed into a mountain," she said.

Her son was also concerned about safety during the recent trip. Douglas used a computer to keep his eye on weather reports of rainstorms that were in the area, his mother said.

“The weather was too bad to fly to Prescott, so they took my car and drove to that college,” she said.

The three decided to return to Milwaukee on Tuesday morning, Ateline Koehler said. Her son figured he could fly around any rainstorms that cropped up.

Authorities later told her that the plane refueled in Albuquerque, N.M. She figures the weather must have persuaded her son to turn back because the plane was found in the county just south and east of her home.