Cause of downed plane perplexes officials |

Cause of downed plane perplexes officials

As federal investigators try to piece together the cause of the plane wreck that killed an East Bay couple and sparked a Meiss backcountry wildfire last August, the brother of the pilot is consumed by the media coverage of all other plane crashes.

Marshall Lombardo, whose brother Christopher died at the scene near Luther Pass, said Tuesday that he now pays closer attention to reports of downed planes. Although it may seem strange, the grieving sibling said he was especially interested in the news of the one that killed Sen. Mark Wellstone, D-Minn., last week. He knows all too well what the Wellstone family is going through.

“We want to know what happened. For the life of us, (family members have) been going over it in our minds,” Lombardo said, adding that even two months later the accident scenario plays like a recording in his mind. “I have to think consciously, ‘I can’t think about this anymore.'”

The family keeps waiting for some sense of resolve from investigators to explain the tragedy. However, a final report is not expected to be released until January at the earliest, a National Transportation Safety Board official reported.

The investigative team plans to assemble the wreckage to determine the cause of the crash, NTSB investigator Hector Casanova said.

In the meantime, NTSB officials have made preliminary findings that indicate no extraordinary circumstance surrounding the crash of the single-engine Piper that claimed the lives of Lombardo and Judith Lohstroh.

“We did not discover any anomalies,” Casanova said from his Houston office.

There were questions, though, that the team would like to review.

“The aircraft was apparently attempting to return,” Casanova said.

The plane was originally headed southwest from Lake Tahoe Airport to Buchanan Field in Concord, following the couple’s vacation in the basin. But when the plane crashed in the Eldorado National Forest west of Big Meadow, the aircraft appeared as if it was headed north, Casanova explained.

In addition, the flaps were up, so investigators have surmised the plane was not preparing to land when it went down.

He added that no indicators have shown any sign of an in-flight fire, so the 294-acre Showers fire seemed to have started from the plane’s impact.

There’s one advantage in trying to determine mechanical error — all the parts of the plane came down at the same spot.

— Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at

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