Two killed in plane crash
GENOA – Two men, including a South Lake Tahoe flight instructor, died Wednesday when an ultralight plane they were flying broke up in midair and crashed in a field northeast of Genoa.
The occupants were identified as Robert Kenneth Granberry, 54, an employee of Harrah’s Lake Tahoe and Hutt Aviation at the Douglas County Airport, and his student, Robert John Ross, 29, of Reno, a deputy with the Washoe County Sheriff’s Department. Investigators speculated they died on impact in the 11:11 a.m. crash.
Douglas County Sheriff’s Sgt. Lance Modispacher described the two-seat aircraft as experimental, with a canvas-covered aluminum frame and a single engine. Douglas County is handling the investigation of the crash because Federal Aviation Administration rules do not cover experimental aircraft.
County Operations Manager Jim Braswell, who oversees Minden-Tahoe Airport, said the plane left the airport at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Witnesses reported seeing the plane spin and lose a wing before crashing 1.8 miles north of Genoa Lane, east of the Carson River. Two large pieces of debris were visible through the sagebrush within 100 yards of the plane wreckage.
Eyewitness Scott Weber was working on a house at the corner of Genoa Springs Drive and Genoa Springs Circle in the Genoa Lakes subdivision when he heard a buzz.
“It just rolled up and the wing snapped, and it went straight down with the wing fluttering beside it,” he said. “I thought I saw a parachute and I kept looking for it to float down. I was hoping the guy bailed out and I kept looking, hoping that’s what happened.”
Sheriff Ron Pierini said an open parachute was found in the plane’s wreckage, but investigators hadn’t determined if the chute’s cord was pulled or if the impact deployed it.
Authorities didn’t have an estimate of the plane’s altitude. Braswell said ultralights are limited to 1,000 feet above the ground so they don’t interfere with other flight patterns, and the pilots generally stay 500 to 700 feet off the ground.
An Internet site operated by the U. S. Ultralight Association says the ultralight category covers powered- and non-powered aircraft that are intended for sport or recreational use. They are restricted to daylight use, can carry a maximum of five gallons of fuel and are not to operate over congested areas.
The site states powered vehicles have a 254-pound weight limit and a maximum speed of 55 knots. They are usually limited to one passenger, but Braswell said Granberry’s plane was exempt because it was used for instruction, and Granberry had the needed licenses and certification to teach.
Braswell said Granberry was well-known at the airport and flew almost daily. He participated in airport planning issues and proposed a flight pattern for ultralight traffic earlier in the year. Braswell described the mood at the airport Wednesday afternoon as “gloomy.”
“He’s a very good person. He was very active with the airport in a lot of ways, specifically with ultralights,” Braswell said. “This is heartbreaking for a lot of people.”
The crash was the third fatal plane wreck since June. The pilot of a sailplane died June 13 after a stabilizer fell off, causing it to dive. Two others died July 13 when their glider broke apart in the air.
Carson Valley is regarded as a premier soaring destination because of the thermal updrafts generated. Braswell said he doesn’t think the area’s popularity is leading to the crashes, however.
“I would say things happen, whether it’s pilot error, whether it’s mechanical error or flying conditions,” he said. “It’s a shame to see it happen, but it does.”
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