ARLINGTON, Wash. - Three people died after a small private plane crashed near the Snohomish-Skagit county line Sunday evening.
The victims have been identified as the pilot, 47-year-old Brenda L. Houston of Enumclaw, her 10-year-old daughter Elizabeth M. Crews and Dr. Virgil Becker, 54, from Auburn.
The Cessna 172 was flying from Roche Harbor on San Juan Island to Auburn, the Skagit County Sheriff's Office confirms. Houston was reportedly planning to drop off Becker in Auburn before continuing to Covington.
Houston's husband and Elizabeth's father Tom Crews says he lost half his heart Sunday night.
"I lost my baby. But she's with her mother. She loved flying with her mother, and the two of them are flying together. They're happy. We lost half our family," said Crews.
It was Crews' call about his wife's overdue flight about 5:30 p.m. that quickly sent searchers into the air. Armed with radar tracks, a volunteer in a search airplane located the wreckage of the rented single-engine plane about 2,900 feet up a mountain near Arlington. A U.S. Navy corpsman was lowered into the trees from a helicopter, confirming no survivors.
The Skagit County Sheriff expected tough going for recovery teams.
"It's a very remote area. There's some logging roads that get within a half mile or a mile to the site, but from there, we're going to have to cut our way in," said Will Reichardt, Skagit County Sheriff's spokesman.
Crews met Houston while they were pilots for Pan Am. Houston continued to fly as a captain on 737's and as a first officer on 757's and 767's for United Airlines.
"I'm very proud of her. In the 40 years that I've been flying or I flew, I never met anybody as good a pilot as she is. Level-headed, competent and very professional," said Crews.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with Brenda and her family during this difficult time," said United in a statement.
Becker was a board certified orthopedic surgeon at Cascade Spine Center.
"Dr. Becker was highly respected in his profession and a valuable member of not only the medical community but the Auburn community," said Auburn Mayor Pete Lewis. "He will be greatly missed."
Staff at Becker's closed Auburn office had no comment.
One big question that needs to be answered is why the plane was so far east in high terrain.
"I think it's going to be a very hard accident to explain. I'm anxiously waiting to hear what the results are. I just can't see her, with her level of experience and level headedness, and Dr. Becker was also a pilot, and also had experience. So that two level-headed people in the cockpit, it's very difficult to imagine that they would do something foolish," said Crews
The Skagit County Sheriff's Office says it is still too early to determine the cause of this crash.
The weather Sunday night was not good. Low clouds were reported over Everett's Paine Field and Arlington's airport reported overcast skies at 1,900 feet with broken cloud layers below. However, it's not clear if that played a role.
The FAA and NTSB are investigating.