Three people in a small passenger plane en route to Nevada were found dead after the plane they were in crashed near the Sandia Crest Monday afternoon, according to a spokeswoman for the New Mexico State Police.
Sgt. Elizabeth Armijo said State Police found the plane north of Tijeras near the Sandia Crest ski area shortly before noon Tuesday but it was several hours before they were able to verify the three victims were inside. She said their bodies were still being brought off the mountain Tuesday evening.
The plane, a Cessna, was last heard from east-northeast of Albuquerque in near the mountains a little after 1 p.m. Monday, according to Lynn Lunsford, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration.
Family and friends identified the passengers as Sherry and Tim Couch and the pilot as Brian Moore, all from Wichita Falls, Texas. Gary Walker said Moore was his airplane mechanic, and the two were close friends. He traveled to Albuquerque along with Moore’s father when he heard the news.
“He’s been doing my maintenance for four or five years,” Walker said. “He’s a good young man with three small children. He’s almost like a son to me. He really put some effort into working on my airplanes.”
Diane McMillan, Sherry Couch’s cousin, said the couple were on a trip to Las Vegas, Nev., when the crash occurred.
“We don’t know what happened,” she said. “My cousins went there to identify Sherry and her husband.”
Armijo said the plane was found about a mile from the Sulphur Canyon picnic area. Although a helicopter spotted the wreckage around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, the recovery mission was prolonged due to poor weather conditions and steep elevation.
“There was between 6 inches to a foot of snow, it was super windy and cold,” Armijo said. “The area where the plane was found was straight up the side of a hill and covered by dense trees.”
An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration will determine the cause of the crash, she said.
The Cessna is registered to Moore Aviation LLC, Moore’s maintenance shop where he worked on big and small planes, Walker said.
“It’s just like anytime you lose a good friend, you just have that hole in your heart,” Walker said. “Especially for a young man like that with a family.”
-Digital Editor Robert Browman contributed to this report.