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Deadly crash on Rogue River still a mystery

Authorities wonder why search helicopter went astray and hit unused, unmarked cable

GRANTS PASS ' Two men who died in a helicopter crash while searching for a missing woman Thursday in the Rogue River were flying about 15 river miles upstream of where the woman's car was found, authorities said.

It was unclear Friday why the men were flying over the Rogue so far upstream of the main search for the missing 71-year-old Merlin woman, whose car was found near the Grave Creek boat ramp.

The helicopter hit a quarter-inch steel cable that once supported a utility line as it spanned the Rogue about 10 miles southwest of Grants Pass, authorities said. It did not include the large orange balls used to mark many such lines for identification by low-flying aircraft.

Pronounced dead at the scene were James E. Marks, of Kingman, Ariz., and Tom Rice, a Josephine County sheriff's marine patrol deputy from Grants Pass. Both men were 46 years old.

The line hit by the helicopter was supported by tall poles on each side of the river, but it was unclear Friday who was responsible for not removing or marking the line, said Chris Dent, who manages that stretch for the federal Bureau of Land Management.

It's up to the utility company, or whoever had that line, to remove it, Dent said. I'm sure all that's going to be looked into.

Dent said three similar sets of cables span the Rogue between the mouth of the Applegate River and Grave Creek, which is the so-called Recreation Section managed by the BLM.

The helicopter was pulled from the Rogue shortly after 4 p.m. Friday and hauled to a Merlin airport hangar where it will be inspected by the National Transportation Safety Board, Dent said.

Josephine County sheriff's deputies were unavailable for comment Friday about why the helicopter was in that area and who owned the utility line.

Rice was a marine deputy since 1995 and was considered one of the top powerboat and whitewater boat operators among the state's marine officers, said Pat Rowland, who oversees the marine enforcement program for the Oregon State Marine Board.

Marine (patrol) was his life, Rowland said. He loved the boats, he loved the river and really enjoyed all the history about it. He will be well-missed.

Rice is survived by his wife, Rita, a son on military duty oversees and a daughter at a college in England.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail