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Divers find missing plane near Brookings; body recovered

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — A plane missing since the Fourth of July has been found off the Oregon Coast, and one body has been recovered.

The Cessna 172 with three people aboard went down shortly after takeoff from Brookings. John Belnap, a 46-year-old nurse anesthetist from Grants Pass, piloted the plane and the passengers were his 17-year-old son Max Belnap and his son's 17-year-old friend, Ryan Merker. The teens attended Grants Pass High School and competed in track and field.

More searching was to be done Friday.

Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel said the name of the recovered person will be released after it has been positively identified by a medical examiner.

He tells the Daily Courier the plane found Thursday was upside down on the ocean floor, partly covered in sand. The plane was separated from its engine and three seats were in the area.

The body was found under a wing, and divers could not see all the way into the fuselage, he said.

The crash scene is about four miles northwest of Brookings, not far from Rainbow Rock.

Boats from Curry, Josephine, Douglas and Wasco counties were in the water along with a boat equipped with a sonar device that spotted an area of interest, with oil and gas in the area, about 100 feet from a previous area of interest.

Daniel said a barge would be needed to salvage the wreck, which has now been marked by a buoy.

"It's bittersweet," Daniel said. "A lot of people put in a lot of time and effort. The whole purpose of this operation is closure, and that comes from recovering all three."