South Lake Tahoe plane crash investigation in ‘early stages’
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board officials are continuing their investigation of Saturday’s [Oct. 10] single-engine plane crash near Lake Tahoe Airport. A spokesperson for the National Transportation Safety Board said the organization is currently in the “very early stages” of its analysis. National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration officials were at the crash site Sunday, Oct. 11, and reportedly completed their initial on-scene assessment of the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board is continuing to gather facts regarding the incident. NTSB spokesman said investigations typically take up to a year to conclude.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 13, the El Dorado County Coroner’s Office had not released the identities of the two crash victims.
The crash is the fourth fatal incident of its kind involving a single-engine aircraft near Lake Tahoe Airport since 2009. Previous National Transportation Safety Board accident reports of other incidents cited trouble with compensating for altitude, proper air/fuel mixtures and mechanical failure. A fifth non-fatal crash involved high winds. A cause for Saturday’s crash has yet to be determined.
The incident occurred around 5:30 p.m. on Saturday in a South Lake Tahoe neighborhood near Pioneer Trail and Lake Tahoe Airport.
“We were standing in our living room having a conversation,” South Lake Tahoe resident Stacey Ramirez said.
She and her husband, William, live three houses down from the crash site and were at home at the time of the incident with their 9-year-old son.
“We heard the plane come in very low, which is not unusual,” she said, explaining their close proximity to Lake Tahoe Airport.
“It was horrible noise,” Ramirez explained when describing the metallic sound of the crash. “We were thinking that something happened down on Pioneer with a motorcycle or a truck. It didn’t really click that it was a [plane] crash.”
Officials on scene reported two fatalities. Both were in the plane at the time of the crash. No one on the ground was injured. The single engine Beech 35 Bonanza crashed shortly after takeoff, killing the pilot and a passenger.
The crash site is located at 1650 Tionontati St. On-scene witnesses said the aircraft clipped the top of a tree before striking the ground near a residence. Portions of a nearby two-story vacation property caught fire as a result of the crash.
A portion of the plane’s tail broke off during the crash and remained stuck in a tree after the fire. The vacation property had substantial scorch marks on the exterior of the building as a result of the crash. There appeared to be no structural damage to the building. Portions of the roof of the residence were also damaged. The fire was contained within a roughly half-acre of a heavily treed property.
According to the Associated Press, Ginger Nicolay-Davis, a real estate agent who manages the vacation home, said two guests were in the home at the time of the crash with their dog and escaped safely.
“They were sitting there relaxing in the living room and they heard what sounded like a tree had fallen,” Nicolay-Davis told the AP. “They assumed a tree had taken out a power line.”
The Associated Press also reported that one of the guests in the home was San Francisco playwright Rod McFadden. He was in town for a festival in South Lake Tahoe. Both guests went back to San Francisco following the crash. Nicolay-Davis described the fire damage to the home as significant.
Fire crews from the U.S. Forest Service, Lake Valley and South Lake Tahoe fire departments and Cal Fire all responded to the blaze, along with members of the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office.
One witness reported sizable flames visible from Pioneer Trail as he passed by shortly after the crash. Fire crews were able to contain the fire in a short period of time.
Ramirez estimated that the fire was out by 6:30 p.m. and commended local response.
Sheriff’s Office officials remained on scene overnight Saturday to oversee the crash site until Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board officials arrived.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer confirmed the two fatalities and aircraft model — typically a six-seat single-engine aircraft.
Combined with the three previous incidents, there have been nine plane crash fatalities near the Lake Tahoe Airport since 2009. A 2012 crash killed five people on board. A 2013 incident killed the pilot, but included one survivor.
El Dorado County Coroner’s Office said there was no timeline for the release of the victims’ names. Due to the condition of remains, dental records will need to be used for identification.
This story first ran online Saturday. It was updated Sunday, then again Tuesday. Visit http://www.tahoedailytribune.com for breaking news.
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