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Debris found from missing plane carrying Grants Pass man and two teens

Coast Guard crews believe debris found four miles north of the Brookings airport Tuesday came from a plane carrying a man and two teenagers from Grants Pass that was reported missing earlier that day.

Grants Pass School District Superintendent Kirk Kolb said officials fear the debris was from the airplane believed to be flown by John Belnap and carrying his son, Max Belnap, and classmate Ryan Merker.

The Coast Guard said the trio were in a small 1964 Cessna 172F plane that left Brookings Monday evening and failed to reach its Grants Pass destination by early Tuesday morning, leading family members to alert authorities.

The Civil Air Patrol says two CAP planes were combing the mountains between the two towns all morning and early afternoon. The search of that area was suspended after the Coast Guard said personal belongings from the plane's occupants were discovered ashore near Lone Ranch Picnic Park. 

A press release from the Curry County Sheriff's Office sent Tuesday evening said two beachcombers contacted the Brookings Police Department at about 11 a.m. Tuesday and gave them a backpack they had found on the beach at the state park along with a few other items, including identification. The items were identified as belonging to the missing plane and passengers. It appeared the items had floated ashore, the release said.

Search and Rescue members walking the coastline between Whaleshead State Park and Harris Beach State Park found several other items believed to have been from the plane.

The search was continuing over ocean waters Tuesday evening, according to the Curry County Sheriff's Department, which is the lead agency in the case.

Kolb says the two teens are standout athletic competitors in track and cross-country and had recently completed their junior years in school.

"It's complete shock right now," Kolb says."These are two very fine young men, great athletes, great students and very well liked by their peers," Kolb says.

John Belnap is a certified registered nurse anesthetist at Asante Three Rivers Medical Center in Grants Pass, Asante spokesperson Lauren Van Sickle confirmed. He has been with the medical center for more than eight years, she said.

Earlier today, some athletic coaches and others arranged a 7 p.m. vigil for this evening at Grants Pass High School's football field, Kolb says. Reached by telephone about 45 minutes after learning of the discovery of debris in the ocean, Kolb says the district planned to continue with the vigil.

According to the Grants Pass Daily Courier, Max Belnap is a top runner on the high school cross country and track team and Merker recently won the pole vault for Grants Pass at the district meet.

Stan Goodell, the cross country coach for Grants Pass High School, told the Courier he did not know why the trio went to Brookings, and that he saw Max Belnap at running practice in Grants Pass earlier on Monday.

Members of the Josephine County Sheriff’s Department, including Sheriff Dave Daniel and Search and Rescue coordinator, Deputy Cory Krauss, were in Brookings assisting with the search. John Belnap is a Josephine County Search and Rescue member.

The Coast Guard was flying a C-27J Spartan airplane out of its Sacramento, Calif., station, along with a Dolphin helicopter. A Coast Guard boat crew aboard a 47-foot motor lifeboat from Station Chetco River in Brookings was also aiding in the search.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.