South Lake Tahoe plane crash kills one, injures another | SierraSun.com

South Lake Tahoe plane crash kills one, injures another

Jeff Munson
Sun News Service

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE ” A single-engine Piper airplane crashed this morning in a meadow south of the Lake Tahoe Airport, killing the pilot. A female occupant, dragged out of the plane by witnesses and a police officer, was transported by CareFlight to a trauma unit in Reno. Her condition is unknown.

The crash was reported at 9:45 a.m., and was witnessed by several people at the Tahoe Outdoor Flea Market located across the street from the meadow on Elk’s Club Drive near Waverley Drive, a moderately developed residential sub-division.

Witnesses said the distressed plane came in low and over homes before crashing.

“The whole plane just dropped down when it came in, like it was trying to land. And then it just started going though the trees,” said witness Jill Aldridge, who was at the flea market and saw the event unfold.

Other witnesses described the plane as either trying to land at the airport, or taking off and making a giant turn in the air in an attempt to make an emergency landing.

Some witnesses said they heard the engine sputter and knock before crashing. Other witnesses said it looked as if the pilot attempted to steer the plane into the meadow away from the flea market area, which was filled with shoppers and vendors.

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“I heard someone yell ‘heads up, heads up’ and I saw the plane coming at us, like it was headed straight for us, and then it just went down into the trees, nose first,” said Sheila Harmon, a witness at the flea market. “If he had kept on going and not crashed where he did he would have come in straight into (the market).”

Although licensed pilot Gary Aldridge didn’t see the aircraft go down he did hear the engine “sputtering” in distress before it crashed. The engine didn’t cut out, Aldridge said, but “there was something wrong with it.”

Winds were reportedly gusty at the time of the accident.

The plane clipped the tops of trees and wedged itself in an angle into the ground. The Aldridges along with South Shore residents Gary Olive and Scott Levy, who were also customers at the flea market, ran into the meadow to help the victims.

Both of the aircraft’s wings were removed. Luggage and debris were scattered around the crash site. The witnesses said there were a few spot fires that resulted in the crash, but were quickly doused. No one reported an explosion but the plane crash did sound like gunshots, witnesses said.

Olive and Levy said they grabbed the pilot from the broken window and pulled his burning body out of the aircraft. Both men received minor burns as they attempted to douse out the flames on the body of the pilot.

“He either didn’t have a seltbelt on or it broke because we just pulled him out of the window,” Levy said. “He was burning everywhere. I grabbed his boots and they melted in my hands.”

A police officer who arrived at the scene cut the seatbelt off of the woman passenger, and she was pulled from the wreckage, her body also burning. Olive checked for a pulse, and said she was breathing but unconscious.

A CareFlight helicopter airlifted the passenger while law enforcement awaited contact from the National Transportation Safety Board and the El Dorado County coroner.