WWII Plane collector dies in Fern Prairie crash

Wilbert "Skeets" Mehrer restored biplanes at Grove Field Airport

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A pilot who was well known among the aviation community at Grove Field Airport died Wednesday afternoon in a plane crash in Fern Prairie.

Wilbert “Skeets” Mehrer, 84, of Canby, Ore., was flying from Hermiston, Ore., to Grove Field Airport, when the crash occurred in a field near English Auto, 26710 N.E. 19th St. There were no passengers on board.

The Camas Police and Fire departments, as well as East County Fire and Rescue, were dispatched at 4:40 p.m.

The cause of the crash has not been determined.

“According to witnesses, he was coming in for a landing at Grove Field and circled around too fast or too high,” said Clark County Sheriff’s Sgt. Tony Barnes.

Larry Mills, who lives across the street from the crash site, said he heard the plane.

“Oh boy, did I,” he said. “He was probably 100 feet over the top of my trailer. I was just getting ready to eat. I heard a ‘thud.’ That’s when he hit.

“That’s what shook me up,” Miller added. “It ruined my appetite.”

A Federal Aviation Administration flight standards officer from Hillsboro, Ore., visited the crash site Wednesday evening. An investigation team with the National Transportation Safety Board from SeaTac is expected to arrive Thursday.

A medical examiner will conduct an autopsy, to determine the cause of death.

Mehrer was flying a single-engine, four passenger airplane — a Piper Comanche P24-250, manufactured in 1960.

“He was a great guy,” said Jim Metzger, operator of a maintenance facility at Grove Field. “He was an institution at our airport.”

Mehrer owned approximately five acres on the north side of the airport.

“He had two large hangars and a mobile home,” Metzger said. “He had a collection of about 15 airplanes — including 10 Stearman World War II training biplanes.

“He had restored all of them lovingly,” he added. “They were beautiful showpieces. We believe that’s the largest collection of that type of airplane — under single ownership — anywhere in the world.”

Metzger said he recently saw Mehrer take a test flight on a restored Stearman.

“He flew the airplane beautifully,” Metzger said. “The only thing I can think of was a medical issue, because he was far too good of a pilot to have ever lost control of that airplane. He must have had some physical condition.

“He will be sorely missed,” he added. “It’s the end of an era. He has been there [at Grove Field] probably longer than anyone else. It’s a really sad day for all of us. Everyone who has an association with Grove Field knew ‘Skeets.'”

Additional information will be released, as it becomes available.