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Waterfowl survey plane crash kills two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists

January 20, 2010 | 11:10 am

Waterfowl survey plane in flight with Vernon Ray Bentley and David Sherwood Pitkin inside.

Two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists were killed Sunday when their survey plane crashed in Oregon.

Biologist David Sherwood Pitkin, 49, from Bandon, Ore., and pilot-biologist Vernon Ray Bentley, 52, from Blodgett, Ore., were returning from an aerial survey of estuaries along the Oregon coast, where they were counting geese, swans and ducks for the Service's annual mid-winter waterfowl assessment.

The plane went down west of Philomath, though the exact location of the crash is not being disclosed, pending an investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.

"It is with great sadness I am confirming that we have lost a valuable part of our Migratory Bird Program and members of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service family," agency director Sam Hamilton said in a news release.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families, loved ones and friends of Ray and Dave as we struggle with this terrible loss," Hamilton continued. "They were wonderful men who were dedicated to wildlife conservation, and played a vital role in helping the Service fulfill its mission. Their professional excellence was matched only by their love of the outdoors."

Every winter, teams of USFWS pilot-biologists and observers fly over U.S. wetlands and waterfowl breeding grounds at treetop level to assess and record waterfowl populations.

This is the third aircraft accident involving wildlife biologists in recent weeks, and the second with fatalities. Three California Department of Fish and Game biologists and their pilot were killed Jan. 5 when their helicopter crashed in the Sierra National Forest. On Jan. 8, two Idaho Fish and Game biologists were injured when the helicopter they were aboard went down.

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: Waterfowl survey plane in flight with Vernon Ray Bentley and David Sherwood Pitkin inside. Credit: Roy Lowe / USFWS