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Menlo Park man dies in Oregon plane crash

Pilot of home-built plane was on his way to view total eclipse in Oregon

Menlo Park resident Mark Rich, 58, the husband of former Menlo Park City School District board member Laura Rich, was killed in a small plane crash on Saturday, friends of the family have confirmed.

Mark Rich's single-engine, home-built Wheeler Express crashed under unknown circumstances near the Madras, Oregon, airport around 1:50 p.m., according to Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor.

Mark Rich, a vice president of Connected Fleet for Airbus and a Silicon Valley veteran who had worked at companies including Google, DARPA and Atheros, had been on his way to watch Monday's solar eclipse.

Menlo Park City School District board member Terry Thygesen, who had served on the board with Laura Rich, said Mark Rich had built the plane himself decades ago. "He was a very experienced pilot and he had flown that plane a lot over the years," she said.

"Mark Rich was a truly amazing person and the world has lost someone very special in this tragic accident," Thygesen said. "Mark possessed a singularly brilliant mind," she said.

Mark and Laura Rich met when she was an undergraduate at Stanford University and he was a graduate student. They married soon after her graduation, 33 years ago.

"He was a truly loving husband to his wife, Laura Linkletter Rich ... and he was a devoted father to their two children," Thygesen said. Son Tyler Rich lives in Austin, Texas, and daughter Michelle Rich lives in New York City. Both are graduates of Menlo Park schools and Menlo-Atherton High School.

Rich "was a truly amazing person," Thygesen said. "He was an engineers' engineer," she said. "Not only was he a super-smart technical person and a very creative and inventive technical person, but he was a Renaissance man and he knew a lot about a lot of things," she said.

"He was a very smart, very interesting guy. He was very quiet ... but once you got to know him you realize he was really smart about a lot of things and had a really great sense of humor."

A statement posted by Jefferson County officials in Oregon says the plane was fully engulfed in flames when first responders arrived on the scene, near the top of Willow Creek canyon about a mile from the Madras Airport. A small fire was started by the crash but quickly extinguished. The plane was completely destroyed, the statement says.

County officials had initially stated there were two people aboard the plane, but their investigation determined Rich was alone.

Family friends say Rich's daughter had initially planned to go on the trip, but had not been able to go.

The Oregon State Police, Jefferson County Fire Department, BNSF Railroad and EMS personnel, as well as local volunteers, assisted at the crash site.

An investigation into the cause of the crash by federal aviation officials is ongoing.

In lieu of flowers, the family prefers that memorial donations be made to the Peninsula Open Space Trust.

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