Pilot dies in crash at Sugar Bowl
A single-engine plane crashed into Mount Lincoln at Sugar Bowl ski resort late Sunday, killing the pilot and sending the broken plane over the back side of the mountain.
The pilot, who was flying alone from Reno to Oakland, ran into bad weather over Donner Summit and told air traffic control at Oakland International Airport that his plane was icing up and he was “going down” just after 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, according to Placer County Sheriff’s Office reports.
The plane clipped the summit of Mount Lincoln, leaving debris within the ski area boundary, and continued down the back side of the mountain before coming to rest more than 1,000 vertical feet below the summit.
Rescuers, who were initially searching the area west of the crash site near Devil’s Peak and Onion Valley, were redirected to Mount Lincoln just after 1 a.m. Monday. Officials at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia were able to pick up signals from the downed plane’s emergency transmitter by satellite and notify searchers that the crash site was near Sugar Bowl.
A Sugar Bowl groomer found a large parachute and pieces of the airplane on Mount Lincoln at 1:45 a.m. Monday, and alerted searchers.
The plane, a four-seat Cirrus SR224, is equipped with a fuselage parachute to soften emergency landings. The parachute was deployed, but the plane was traveling too fast for it to be effective, said Capt. Rick Armstrong of the Placer County Sheriff’s Office.
The aircraft was owned by Alamar Construction based in Navato, which is in Marin County. Bill McGrath, an executive with the company, is believed to have been flying the plane when it crashed. The identity of the victim, however, has not been officially released by the Placer County Sheriff.
Sugar Bowl ski patrol and Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue began combing the steep terrain around where the parachute was found, but poor visibility and the ruggedness of the terrain hampered their efforts.
“Airplanes don’t leave any tracks, so you just have to scour until you find it,” said Steve Twomey, a Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue member who arrived at the main fuselage of the plane with Sugar Bowl ski patrollers.
Sugar Bowl delayed opening portions of the ski resort on Monday as rescuers continued criss-crossing the area on skis in weather that only offered 20 to 25 feet of visibility.
Search and rescue workers found the main portion of the plane resting at about 7,200 feet elevation at around noon Monday. The fuselage was badly damaged and the pilot appeared to have died on impact, Armstrong said.
The body of the victim was being recovered from the area on Tuesday, said Armstrong.
The scene of the crash is being blocked off until National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration officials can investigate the crash.
Truckee resident Jesse Todd was part of the rescue effort. He used his training in the Civil Air Patrol’s cadet program to track the signals of the downed plane using a emergency locator transmitter device that he had trained on in sessions in Indiana and Nevada.
Early in the search near Devil’s Peak, Todd, 17, was the only one to pick up the weak signal coming from the aircraft.
“I had the thing up to my ear because the signal was so faint,” Todd said.
When he moved to Sugar Bowl, under direction from Langley Air Force Base, Mount Lincoln obstructed the signal. But by that time pieces of the plane were already being found.
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