Clues sought in jet crash
An investigation is underway as to why a jet crashed on approach to Truckee Tahoe Airport on Wednesday, killing the two crew members on board.
The twin-engine Learjet 35 that had taken off from Twin Falls, Idaho, between noon and 1 p.m. was scheduled to pick up two passengers in Truckee. It was the first fatal jet crash in the airfield’s history.
Truckee resident Mark Maisel was driving toward Truckee on Highway 267 when he witnessed the crash, which occurred just after 2 p.m. on Martis Creek Dam Road, less than a mile from the runway.
“The right wing went straight up with the left wing straight down, then the left wing went straight up,” he said. “Then it hit the ground with the biggest ball of flame you’ve ever seen. The ball of flame was bigger than any tree around here.”
The crew members have been identified as Jonathan Martin, 40, a father of four, who has been flying for about 10 years, and Brett Karpy, 34, of Eighty Four, Washington County, Pa., according to the Observer-Reporter newspaper, in Washington, Pa., where the company that owns the jet is located. The Karpy family had celebrated the pilot’s birthday while vacationing in Florida about two weeks before he returned to his job at Skyward, Brett Karpy’s father, William, said.
Dave Gotschall, manager of the Truckee Tahoe Airport, said the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report on the accident should be completed in 30 days and a final report finished in one year.
Prior to the crash, Gotschall said the pilot made contact with the airport’s communication system that he had the airfield in sight. Gotschall said the plane’s approach was normal.
“There was no indication of any distress,” Gotschall said. “It was just very unfortunate.”
The Learjet 35 routinely carries a two-member crew and seats six to eight passengers. The plane is owned by R.S.B. Investments, based in Washington, Pa., a company that does business as Skyward Aviation, said Bruce Nelson, a Federal Aviation Administration operations officer in Los Angeles. Skyward is an aircraft charter, sales and management company.
Officials spent most of Thursday afternoon documenting the crash site. While most of the plane was destroyed, a portion of the left wing tip was found in the impact crater, said Wayne Pollack, an accident investigator with the NTSB office in Los Angeles.
The place carried a voice recorder that is “highly impact resistant,” he said. It will be sent to Washington, D.C., for read out.
Pollack and experts from other areas of the country will be examining what’s left of the plane’s airframe, avionics and engines to determine the cause of the crash. The weather conditions at the time of the accident and the company that owned the plane will also be studied, he said.
According to the Automated Weather Observing System, conditions at the time of the crash were winds of 24 mph with gusts of up to 32 mph with a combination of rain and snow. Visibility was seven miles.
On the airport’s Web site, truckeetahoeairport.com, the pilot’s guide carries a “Turbulence and Density Altitude Warning.”
“Mountains surround the Airport,” it read. “Turbulence, downdrafts and wind shear may be encountered in traffic pattern area.”
Truckee Tahoe Airport, situated at 5,900 feet, is a general aviation airport that operates without a control tower. According to the field’s Web site, the airport is attended seven days a week, 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Snow removal equipment is operated round-the-clock to clear runways during and after snowstorms.
The last two fatal crashes at Truckee Tahoe Airport occurred in 2003 and 1997 and involved prop-driven planes.
Richard Marlow, 70, was killed and his wife Beverly, 65, critically injured in a plane crash at the airport on July 4, 2003. Five Bay Area residents died in a crash on May 11, 1997 in a Beechcraft Bonanza.
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Highs for Truckee will return to the 70s by early next week, the National Weather Service said.