Plane crash victims still unidentified |

Plane crash victims still unidentified

Susan Wood, Tahoe Daily Tribune

The identities of the two people who died on board the single-engine private plane that crashed Monday and sparked a 384-acre wildfire near Luther Pass are still unknown.

Representatives from the National Transportation Safety Board are expected today in South Lake Tahoe to investigate the crash site and the starting point of the Showers fire — located five miles southeast of Echo Summit. Federal Aviation Administration officials were at the scene Tuesday.

The FAA said the plane crash was caused by “unknown circumstances” in mountainous terrain.

The aircraft was so badly destroyed after striking the rugged terrain near Elbert Lake that the tail identification of the Piper plane was unreadable. They cannot even tell if the plane was more than a two-seater.

El Dorado County sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Stroot said it may take days before the authorities know the identities of the victims. The county coroner’s office will likely be forced to rely on dental records.

The department is pursuing leads on the crash with federal authorities.

A possible clue is the fact that a family member of a missing air passenger called the sheriff’s station Monday to report an overdue plane that was to have taken off from Lake Tahoe Airport en route to Buchanan Field in Concord, said Sgt. Randy Peshon, a county search and rescue team member.

Lake Tahoe Airport administration and tower support officials were unaware of any unaccounted for planes as of Tuesday. The Concord airport deferred calls to the FAA district office in Oakland.

“The only way they’d know is if the pilot filed a flight plan,” FAA flight services spokesman Bruce Allen said.

No data had been filed, the FAA reported.

“We don’t think (it) was part of the air traffic control system. There are several areas of the country of free flight,” FAA Western Regional spokesman Jerry Synder said.

Once the federal investigation has been completed, the task of removing the wreckage, which scattered over a wide expanse, from the wilderness area will be a priority.

The NTSB traditionally works with the family of the aircraft owner to oversee removing the wreckage. Helicopters are often assigned to take out at least the heavy pieces, but air removal is a costlier method, Peshon said.

The U.S. Forest Service mandates the removal of the debris for environmental reasons. The basin has experienced a handful of plane crashes in the past 15 years.

Lake Tahoe Airport authorities said they will decide this afternoon whether to host the Air Fest scheduled for this Saturday.

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