SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Authorities on Tuesday identified the five victims who died after the plane they were in crashed after takeoff and burst into flames Saturday night off Lake Tahoe's South Shore.
The victims have been identified as Fresno, Calif., residents Harold Cardwell, 60, Kin Cardwell, 41, Francisco De La Mora, 43, Lorena De La Mora, 39, and Esmeralda De La Mora, 6. They were identified using dental charts, according to the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office.
According to a press release from the city of South Lake Tahoe, the plane took off from Lake Tahoe Airport at 9:48 p.m. Saturday and crashed shortly afterward in a meadow off Winnemucca Avenue near Barton Memorial Hospital.
El Dorado County Sheriff's Lt. Pete Van Arnum said witnesses heard an engine having trouble, then saw the plane turn, dip and crash into brush near the edge of the meadow. It burst into flames upon impact, creating a fire that spread to about an acre.
Federal Aviation Administration Regional Public Affairs Manager Allen Kenitzer said the plane, a fixed-wing, single-engine Piper PA32 Cherokee, crashed under unknown circumstances and was destroyed by fire. According to FAA records, the plane was registered to owners in Fresno; Francisco De La Mora was one of the co-owners.
De la Mora was owner of JDM Transport Inc., a trucking company based in Fresno, company dispatcher Jose Lopez told the Associated Press. De La Mora took a “personal trip” to Lake Tahoe for the day Saturday with his wife, Lorena; daughter, Esmeralda; and friends, the Cardwells, and had planned to return the same day, Lopez said.
Much of the wreckage was destroyed by the fire, making identification of the plane and victims difficult, Van Arnum said.
Winnemucca Avenue resident Dr. Jean Makris said she was home Saturday night when she heard the crash.
“I heard a noise first then saw a fireball. It burned very hot and brightly,” she said. “I called 911, everyone called 911; and some of us went into the meadow to see if there were any survivors. It seemed that there were not.”
Makris said emergency crews arrived at the scene and moved everyone out of the meadow so they could fight the fire and begin the investigation.
“Our hearts go out to the families of those (who) perished in this tragic accident,” South Lake Tahoe Mayor Claire Fortier said in a statement. “Thanks to the quick and cooperative efforts by multiple agencies; the fire caused by this crash was put out quickly.”
According to the city, the crash was not related to the 23rd annual Lake in the Sky Air Show, which took place earlier Saturday.
The plane crashed within El Dorado County limits; the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office is the lead agency of this investigation. FAA and National Transportation Safety Board officials are still investigating the incident.