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Grants Pass deals with grief as search for plane continues

Grants Pass High School will offer grief counseling following this week's tragic plane crash that claimed the lives of students Max Belnap and Ryan Merker.

Kirk Kolb, superintendent of the Grants Pass School District, said those in need may call the school district at 541-474-5700, and leave contact information.

"We'll have one of our counselors reach out and set up something," Kolb said.

Meanwhile, the search continued in the ocean north of Brookings for the plane that carried the two boys, both 17 and incoming seniors at GPHS, and Max Belnap's father, John. Their plane apparently crashed into the ocean shortly after takeoff Monday night from Brookings Airport.

Services for Max and John Belnap are set for 10 a.m. Monday at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1969 Williams Highway.

Kolb said district staff are working on setting up a memorial service for Merker, likely at the Performing Arts Center next week.

Also, a scholarship fund has been set up for Merker and Max Belnap through the Josephine County Educational Fund.

Details about the scholarship will be revealed later, but donations may be sent to: Josephine County Educational Fund (JCEF), P.O. Box 908, Grants Pass, OR, 97528.

Checks should be made to JCEF, with a note that the donation is for the Belnap and Merker memorial scholarship.

Donations may also be made at the JCEF website at jocoeducationalfund.org, or dropped off at 2158 N.E. Industry Drive. For more information, call 541-476-2196.

At the coast, searchers using sonar continued looking Friday for the sunken wreckage of the plane.

Curry County Sheriff John Ward and other law enforcement were on the water early, just north of Brookings at Lone Ranch Beach, facing uncertain weather conditions.

Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel reported late Thursday that a promising new area had been identified in the search for the missing plane.

Daniel told the Daily Courier that he and other search personnel had been on the water for nine hours on Thursday searching without success for the Cessna 172.

Three boats — one from Josephine County, one from Curry County and one from Klamath County equipped with side-scanning sonar — were on the water all day, Daniel said.

Late in the day, based on new witness information, Ward took to the air in a helicopter and spotted a possible fuel or oil slick just south of a debris field where the search has been concentrated, Daniel said.

As a result, all three boats plus two more vessels equipped with sonar were scheduled to head out Friday, he said.

Seven divers, including some from Josephine County, have been in the water searching for the wreckage.

"We're not done," Daniel said. "We'll do it again tomorrow."

Crews from the U.S. Coast Guard were also on the scene, assisting the search boats.