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Cause of Beckett plane crash not found

The exact cause of last September's plane crash that killed three and orphaned four young Ashland children will never be known, according to the final report by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Dean Ray Beckett Sr., 62, of Macdoel, Calif., piloted the twin-engine Beech Baron that carried his son, Dean Ray Beckett Jr., 34, and daughter-in-law, Kara Elaine Jeffries-Beckett, 35, as they flew to Scottsdale, Ariz., under a shroud of early morning overcast.

Some witnesses at the Ashland airport reported that the group appeared to be in a hurry, but nothing else appeared abnormal at take-off time.

As the pilot attempted to maneuver the aircraft below the overcast, stated the report, he inadvertently entered the cloud base, and soon thereafter collided with the terrain.

Toxicology tests revealed traces of ethanol and acetaldehyde in the elder Beckett, although the reason for their presence is hard to pinpoint, according to the medical examiner who performed the autopsy.

There is a level that suggests there possibly could have been some drinking the night before, said Dr. James Olson, Oregon Deputy State Medical Examiner.

Olson said the levels of ethanol found are consistent with a possible .05 percent blood-alcohol level ' .03 percentage points below the legal limit to drive a car. However, he said, ethanol and acetaldehyde are also by-products of the natural decaying process ' the bodies were exposed to the elements for about 24 hours before they were recovered.

In all fairness, you have to afford them the benefit of the doubt, Olson said.

As to why the pilot would have registered traces of the compounds and not the son ' the only other victim tested ' NTSB investigator Kurt Anderson said the phenomenon is not unusual.

The Becketts had planned to stop at the family Christmas tree farm in Macdoel before proceeding to Scottsdale. The children reportedly have been living with relatives in Portland since the accident.