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St. Helens couple witnesses crash, rushes to aid victim

by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: ROBIN JOHNSON - Scorched ground at the site where LaFayettes craft crashed Saturday on N.E. Wagner Court off West Lane Road.A Washington man was killed Saturday, Aug. 31, when the gyrocopter he was operating crashed in a field near Scappoose Industrial Airpark.

James LaFayette, 59, of Kalama, Wash., was pronounced dead at the scene of the gyrocopter crash, which was a field located at N.E. Wagner Court off West Lane Road.

Lisa and Austin Peel of St. Helens were at the airpark watching planes with their 10-month-old son when Austin Peel saw the small, lightweight aircraft drop below the horizon.

“I didn’t see the crash. I was fixated on a different aircraft,” Lisa Peel said. “My husband was the one that actually saw him fall out of the sky, then we saw a big cloud of black smoke.”

The Peels then raced around the airport to the site of the crash and called 911. When they arrived, the craft was on fire.

“I ran out of the car, bolted, trying to look for someone, to see if everything was OK,” Lisa Peel said. “I started to pray so I could get enough courage to go get the guy. I called my husband and prayed more. Then my husband, in shorts, a T-shirt and flip-flops, ran into the fire and grabbed the gentleman.”

LaFayette already was dead when Austin Peel pulled him from the wreckage. Austin Peel suffered no injuries in the attempted rescue.

“Honestly, it was by the grace of God that my husband was not injured and the plane didn’t blow up,” Lisa Peel said.

Emergency vehicles arrived five minutes later, Lisa Peel said. She added that investigators at the scene said the plane should have exploded.

Cheryl Engstrom, spokeswoman with the Scappoose Fire District, said the crash resulted in a fire of about 100 square feet, which was quickly extinguished.

“The engines left and left other personnel on the scene once they knew there was no other need for a medic,” she said.

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating to determine the cause of the crash.

At the time of the crash, LaFayette was not registered with the Oregon Department of Aviation to fly in Oregon, according to an ODA official.

LaFayette worked as a welder, electrician, mechanic and machinist for various companies. He also volunteered as a firefighter and coached high school football.

LaFayette frequently participated in street preaching and evangelism in Portland and Vancouver. He is survived by his two brothers, five sisters, his wife Molly LaFayette, their eight children and 19 grandchildren.

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