Crash victims may be Bay Area couple |

Crash victims may be Bay Area couple

Susan Wood, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Two bodies were recovered by authorities Wednesday from the wreckage of a single-engine plane that crashed and then sparked a 294-acre wildfire in steep terrain near Luther Pass this week.

The Piper plane contained a male and female passenger who were vacationing in Tahoe from the San Francisco Bay Area, said Detective Pete Van Arnum of the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department.

Van Arnum said the department is at least 80 percent sure who died, but will not have confirmation until after today’s autopsy.

The strongest lead in the case appears to be the identification of keys from the brother of a pilot who took off from the Lake Tahoe Airport at 10:30 a.m. Monday en route to Buchanan Field in Concord. The coroner’s office will rely on dental records because the bodies are burned beyond recognition.

El Dorado County deputies continue to pursue other leads related to the crash, which occurred in the southwestern section of the Showers fire, located off Highway 89 in the Meiss backcountry west of Big Meadow and east of Elbert Lake.

Representatives from the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration toured the crash site Wednesday.

Local pilots who fly in and out of the Lake Tahoe Airport say the region presents challenges on many levels.

John Brown, who runs a flight school and air taxi known as Emerald Bay Aviation, said pilots need to be aware of limited visibility, load factor and terrain. The Tahoe runway climbs in an upward slope, plus there’s temperature variation and wind.

Wind was a factor Monday for Brown, a veteran pilot of 40 years.

Brown took off from the airport headed west to Salinas, Calif., at 9:43 a.m. when he noticed significant turbulence.

“The wind was coming from different directions and bouncing me. It was a beautiful ride after we got through that spot,” he said.

Brown and his passenger circled over the Lake Tahoe Golf Course to gain altitude before crossing over Echo Summit.

“If this pilot hadn’t done that, I don’t think (the plane) would have made it,” he said.

Brown flies under the rule of thumb that he adds 1,000 feet to his crossing of ridge lines if natural wind speeds amount to 30 knots or more.

“Sometimes you can get caught in a down draft that’s stronger than the performance of your aircraft. I know how powerful these (drafts) can be,” he said.

And as illustrated in recent plane crashes, even the best of pilots can get caught in a disastrous flight situation, he stressed.

“It can happen to anyone. In flight circles, we have a saying. ‘Fate is a hunter,'” he said.

— Contact Susan Wood at 530-542-8009 or

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