Police have identified the five victims who died after the plane they were in crashed after takeoff and burst into flames Saturday night.
The victims have been identified as Fresno 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. and crashed shortly afterward in a meadow off Winnemucca Avenue near Barton 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.
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.
Much of the wreckage was destroyed by the fire, making identification of the plane and victims difficult, Van Arnum said.
"Our hearts go out to the families of those that perished in this tragic accident. Thanks to the quick and cooperative efforts by multiple agencies; the fire caused by this crash was put out quickly," Mayor Claire Fortier stated in the release.
According to the city, the crash was not related to the Lake in the Sky Air Show, which took place last weekend.
The location of the plane crash is within El Dorado County limits and the El Dorado County Sheriff's Department is the lead agency of this investigation. FAA and National Transportation Safety Board officials are still investigating the incident.
Federal Aviation Administration Regional Public Affairs Manager Allen Kenitzer said the plane, a Piper PA32 Cherokee, crashed under unknown circumstances and was destroyed by fire. According to FAA records, the plane was a fixed-wing, single-engine craft registered to owners in Fresno, Calif. Francisco J. De la Mora was a co-owner of the plane.
De la Mora owned 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, daughter and two friends, and had planned to return the same day, Lopez said.
Stephen Buxton, pastor of Pentecostal Hilltop Tabernacle in Chula Vista, Calif., said he had known Harold Cardwell for about 30 years.
Cardwell, who is survived by two adult daughters, worked as an insurance agent and was also a pilot, he said.
"He's the one that taught me how to fly," Buxton said. "He was an excellent pilot. This was not his airplane and from what I know he wasn't flying this plane. From what I know, more than likely he was flying the right seat. He was an excellent pilot, a very safe pilot. All that know him will attest to that."
Buxton said Cardwell was an "easy guy to love, very personable."
"It's very sad," he said of Cardwell's death. "My heart's been on the ground."
As a pastor, Buxton said funerals are part of his duties, and he's been to many.
"A lot of people get larger than life in funerals, but that's who Harold was," Buxton said. "He was just a great man. I'll miss him."