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Bodies identified

BROOKINGS — The two bodies from a July 4 plane crash off the Oregon Coast found by divers last week have been identified.

Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel said Monday the bodies were of pilot John Belnap, 46, and his son Max, 17.

They were recovered last week near the wreckage of a Cessna 172 about a half-mile offshore in the vicinity of Rainbow Rock, near Brookings.

Deputy State Medical Examiner James Olson made the identification over the weekend, Daniel said.

Daniel said the search would resume for Ryan Merker, 17, possibly Thursday or Friday. Wind and rough seas have halted the search since last Friday.

"We've done an immediate search around the plane, up to about 30 feet, and we're going to expand that," Daniel said. "We're going to try to cover up to 100 feet out, and just hope. It's likely he's outside the plane, based on the fact we had three seats broken away from the plane."

A memorial service for Merker was held Sunday at the Grants Pass High Performing Arts Center to a near capacity crowd. 

"He had a spirit and love for life that was contagious," said Kyle Swanson, Merker's track and field coach at Grants Pass High School, where Merker and Max Belnap were incoming seniors.

Swanson said Merker's enthusiasm and energy for life spread to his teammates. Swanson's last pole-vault practice with Merker, who recently had won the event at the district track meet, was one of the most unproductive of the season. Merker got all of his teammates to participate in throwing a football at vaulters as they crashed on the mats, just to have a little fun.

"Ryan taught me to not take life too seriously," Swanson said.

Merker leaves behind his mother and father, Teal and Darren Merker, and two older brothers, Dillon and Cameron.

Darren Merker told stories of his son's interesting fashion sense, long hair, and his beloved trips to the local Ross department store, and how Ryan referred to himself as "R-Dawg."

"We're going to get through this together," Darren Merker told the audience.

He thanked the community of Grants Pass for its outpouring of support and care, and for the search and rescue effort led by the Josephine and Curry county sheriff's offices.

A similar service for the Belnaps was held two weeks ago at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Williams Highway.

The crash occurred the night of July 4 shortly after 11 p.m. in clear but moonless conditions.

That scenario raises the possibility of spatial disorientation, a phenomena in which pilots are unable to discern their horizon.

Reach reporter Jeff Duewel at 541-474-3720 or jduewel@thedailycourier.com. Alex Madison of the Daily Courier contributed to this story.