AGNESS – A four-passenger airplane flying low along the Rogue River clipped a tree with its wing, cartwheeled and exploded on impact near Half Moon Bar Lodge east of Agness killing all four passengers.

"I saw the plane come down the river," one witness said. "He was flying fairly low. He began a hard turn to the left. He clipped the top of the tree with his left wing and a piece of it fell off.

The 1955 Cessna 180 crashed and burned about 8:45 a.m. Saturday in the Wild and Scenic section of the Rogue River near Half Moon Bar Lodge. Half Moon Bar is located about 45 miles up the Rogue River from Gold Beach.

The pilot, 60-year-old Vern Robert Miller of San Jose, Calif., and his wife, 58-year-old Elizabeth George Miller, along with passengers Sharon Viola Hanson, 61, and Roberta Ellen Way, 65, both from Creswell, died in the crash.

Curry County Sheriff's Lt. Dennis Dinsmore said Tuesday that the insurance company will be in to do a recovery of the aircraft in the next day or two.

"I saw the plane come into Paradise the night before," another witness said. "I was rafting down the river when this happened. The plane tried to turn and clipped the tree, cartwheeled, possibly stalled, and exploded on impact."

Shortly after take off, witnesses just down river from Half Moon Bar reported observing the airplane make the turn in a narrow section of the river canyon.

On Sunday, authorities from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Bureau, were taken to the crash site by the Curry County Sheriff's Office Marine Division and began an investigation into the cause of the crash.

According to Curry County Marine Deputy Ted Heath, Hanson and Way had been friends for nearly 40 years, raising their children together and taking joint family vacations. The two were at their annual girls' getaway weekend at the secluded Paradise Lodge on the Rogue River.

Way's husband, Bob, said the pair apparently accepted an impromptu invitation from Miller, who had just delivered supplies to the lodge, and had another delivery to make at a lodge upriver.

"They just went for a quick little joy ride," Heath said. "They didn't know what had hit them. It's a real tough area to fly in, and accidents can happen."

Hanson's husband, Ron, a Creswell city councilor and former Longtime city manager in the small community, said it was "an immense comfort" to know the two friends were together when they died.

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