Plane crash investigation in early stages |

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Plane crash investigation in early stages

The investigation into a July 22 plane crash in South Lake Tahoe that killed a Palo Alto man could take about a year, according to a National Transportation Safety Board spokesman.

A preliminary report from the agency released Tuesday does not give a suspected cause of the crash that killed Steven Lefton and seriously injured his wife, Karen Lefton.

The report states the couple were on their way to Palo Alto from South Lake Tahoe about 10:45 a.m. July 22. After taking off, the Mooney M20C flown by Steven Lefton maintained a “nose-high attitude” before disappearing behind a ridge and crashing into a wooded area, according to the report.

NTSB spokesman Terry Williams said the agency conducts between 1,400 and 1,500 crash investigations per year. The inquiries include onsite recovery of evidence, interviewing witnesses who saw the crash and speaking with family members of victims, as well as possibly bringing wreckage to an off-site facility for further examination, Williams said.

“We do a very, very thorough investigation to find out what caused an accident,” Williams said. The spokesman could not immediately provide information about how far along investigators are on the July crash, but said the investigation is in the “very, very early stages.”

The NTSB has yet to issue a probable cause report for an August 2012 crash at Lake Tahoe Airport that killed five people.

The pilot of that crash mentioned concerns to airport personnel about achieving the right fuel-air mixture for the density altitude prior to taking off, according to a preliminary NTSB report.

During the preliminary investigation of the July crash, El Dorado County sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Pete Van Arnum noted pilots can encounter high-density altitude, where air density is reduced and has the potential to impact airplane performance, on hot days at Lake Tahoe. The phenomena has been cited as a contributing factor in previous plane crashes at the South Shore, including a 2009 crash that killed Davis resident Casey William Daggett.