John McKibbin’s aircraft has been retrieved from the Columbia River

John McKibbin

A former principal with the RiverWalk on the Columbia Limited Liability Corporation has been found dead after his aircraft crashed in the Columbia River, near Astoria.

John McKibbin, 69, was transporting Irene Mustain, 63, to scatter her husband’s ashes into the Pacific Ocean March 23, when his fixed wing single- engine airplane apparently had trouble and crashed around 4 p.m., into the river about one mile north of Pier 39.

The silver and red aircraft, with tail number N7055D, was a North American Military Trainer AT-6A, manufactured in 1942 and completely reconditioned. It was classified as experimental by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The plane had taken off from Pearson Field Airport in Vancouver, March 23, around 3:30 p.m.

The Coast Guard, Clatsop County Marine Patrol and multiple good Samaritans had saturated the search area March 23 and 24 with air and surface assets in an attempt to find the two people aboard the aircraft.

The airplane had broken into numerous pieces and was scattered about the floor of the river. Clatsop County Sheriff Tom Bergin said it was a large search area with approximately two feet of visibility at any point.

A Clatsop County Search and Rescue dive team located McKibbin, of Vancouver, March 25, and they were able to successfully retrieve his body from the wreckage.

Mustain, of Woodland, was located, but due to the tangled wreckage and position of the fuselage she was not able to be retrieved Friday. Her body was recovered March 28.

The aircraft was retrieved March 29. The plane crash is under investigation by the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board.

McKibbin’s involvement with the RiverWalk project

The RiverWalk project was a 65-acre, $350 million concept, which could have extended from the Parkersville historic site upriver to the vacant property east of Hambleton Lumber at 335 S. “A” St., Washougal. The project, proposed in October 2005, included a hotel, amphitheater, offices, condominiums and multi-family residences.

McKibbin became a RiverWalk principal Aug. 1, 2006, one day after he stepped down from the position of president and chief executive officer of the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce. At that time, he had known Rick Bowler — another RiverWalk principal — for three decades.

Bowler and his wife, Marilee Thompson, and Mark and Mary Benson signed a two-year option in 2005 with the Port of Camas-Washougal to form a joint public-private partnership that would conduct a feasibility study for the waterfront project. The option expired Nov. 2, 2007.

In December 2009, Clark County Superior Court Judge John Nichols confirmed the arbitration ruling that RiverWalk should pay the port $607,852 in attorney fees and costs.

In April 2010, the port ceased legal proceedings against RiverWalk after it was determined there were no assets that would have enabled the port to recover costs.

McKibbin was a former teacher in the Vancouver School District, as well as a two-term state representative, realtor and Clark County commissioner. He was a founding chairman of Leadership Clark County, Identity Clark County and Evergreen Habitat for Humanity.

A candlelight vigil to honor McKibbin was held March 26, at the Pearson Field Historic Hangar. Members of his family were in attendance.

Former Port Commissioner Mark Paras said in an email McKibbin had volunteered to give rides in his AT-6 at some fundraising events for the Camas-Washougal Aviation Association, at Grove Field Airport, in Fern Prairie.

Jim Gray, a certified flight instructor and manager of ATC Camas, a business based at Grove Field, said in an email, he had never flown with McKibbin but he had seen him fly a number of times.

“His flying always seemed under control and not at all showing off,” Gray said. “He did have a great love of planes and flying.

“He was one of the most personable men I’ve ever met,” Gray added. “He always had a cheerful greeting to me and seemed very sincere in his interest in those he met and those around him. Clark County has lost a true gentleman.”