Man killed in Truckee plane crash was headed to Mexico for humanitarian mission |

Man killed in Truckee plane crash was headed to Mexico for humanitarian mission

Kevin MacMillan
Tribune News ServiceDr. James R. Ungar, 66, of Yreka, Calif.

TRUCKEE, Calif. – A Northern California doctor who was preparing for a humanitarian aid trip to Mexico was identified late Thursday as the pilot who died in a single-engine plane crash earlier that day at Truckee Tahoe Airport.

James R. Ungar, 66, of Yreka, Calif., was killed when his Piper Comanche 250 airplane went down shortly after takeoff under “unknown circumstances” and crashed into a hangar at the airport at about 8:15 a.m., said Ian Gregor, a spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Administration.

According to a statement from Adrian Fenderson, a colleague of Ungar’s with Napa Dentist, Ungar was a volunteer pilot for Los Medicos Voladores (the Flying Doctors). He and two others were preparing for a trip to Bahia Tortugas in Baja California, Mexico, where they were to join other volunteers for a weekend medical and dental humanitarian mission.

Minutes prior to the fatal takeoff, Fenderson said, Ungar and his fellow volunteers – Russ Mann, a registered nurse, and Wayne McClelland, an EMT and translator – had attempted and aborted a takeoff over concern for sufficient lift and returned to the airport terminal, where Mann and McClelland de-planed.

“In a selfless action, he then, alone, attempted a second takeoff to verify the flight-worthiness of the aircraft,” Fenderson said.

Ungar’s daughter, Stacey Ungar-Nash, released the following statement to KRNV News 4 in Reno on Thursday.

“The man who died in the plane crash is in indeed my father,” she said. “My family is extremely grateful for the love and support by the community. This is a difficult time for us. It’s a horrible tragedy and a great man was lost.”

What caused the plane to crash into an eastside hangar at the airport is unknown. The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the incident, Gregor said, with NTSB taking the lead. Typically, investigations take months before probable causes are determined.

Ungar was an accomplished emergency room physician and medical director at the Fairchild Medical Center in Yreka, Fenderson said.

“He was a very experienced pilot flying since his youth,” said Fenderson, who added that Ungar had more than 6,000 hours as a pilot in command.

“Our entire organization shares with family and friends the devastation over this horrible fatal accident,” Fenderson said. “We are at the same time relieved that Dr. Ungar’s two passengers are alive because of his selfless concern for their safely.”

Ungar is survived by his three children: Stacey Ungar-Nash, David Ungar and Jamie Ungar.

The incident marks the fifth death related to a plane crash at the airport in recent memory, according to previous reports.

On June 18, 2010, Raymond Rotge, 66, of Santa Rosa, Calif., and Mack Johnston, 71, of Chewelah, Wash., were killed after crashing a home-built, single-engine Vans RV8 aircraft on approach. On Dec. 28, 2005, Jonathan Martin, 40, and Brett Karpy, 34, both pilots for Washington, Pa.-based Skyward Aviation, died after the corporate Learjet 35A they were flying crashed and exploded while attempting to land.

The incident is also the ninth small-plane crash to occur at or near the airport since September 2008. Thursday’s incident and the June 18, 2010, incident were the only two to involve fatalities.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.