Investigators with the NTSB are in Butte, Montana today trying to figure out what caused a single engine airplane crash that killed a young family from St. Helena. According to the Napa Valley Register, Dr. Erin Jacobson, his wife, Amy, and their three children, ages 2 to 4, died when the plane jerked wildly and then nosedived into a cemetery 500 feet short of the runway.
The crash killed all 14 people on board. Half of them were children on their way to a ski vacation. There were also families from Chico and Galt, officials said.
The turboprop plane left Vacaville yesterday morning from Oroville bound for Bozeman. But at some point, the pilot canceled his flight plan and headed instead for Butte, which was closer. The change suggests the pilot might have had some sort of problem that required him to land as soon as possible.
Galt resident Dr. Michael L. Pullen, who practices dentistry in Valley Springs, his wife, Dr. Vanessa Pullen, and children Sydney Pullen and Chris Pullen died in the crash, family members said.
Oroville police said Monday that some residents from the Chico area got on the plane Sunday and were among the dead. Names were not immediately released.
Steve Guidoni of Butte witnessed the crash. He rushed to the scene to see if he could help.
"It smelled like diesel fuel to me," said Guidoni, 61. "There was nothing left of it. It just went straight into the ground. I went over there to try to help. I thought maybe I would pull someone out of the fire." Guidoni said he saw luggage and seat cushions lying around, but no bodies. He said the biggest piece of the plane was the size of a kitchen table. "You wouldn't even know a plane was there," he said.
Nick Dipasquale, 19, was working at a gas station across the street. "I heard a loud bang," he said. "It sounded like someone ran into the building." He said he ran outside to see flames as tall as the trees.
Dipasquale said people who were fueling their cars said they saw the plane flying low, begin a turn, start to wobble and then slam into the ground.
The plane was a 2001 Pilatus PC-12 which was certified to carry only 12 people. Investigators want to know if the weight of extra passengers, a mechanical problem or something else caused the plane to crash.
Federal aviation officials said Monday the plane didn't have a cockpit voice recorder or flight data recorder and wasn't certified to carry commercial passengers.
The crash is the fourth major plane accident in the U.S. in slightly more than three months.
On Dec. 20, Continental Airlines plane veered off a runway and slid into a snowy field at Denver International Airport, injuring 37 people. No one was killed. In January, a US Airways jetliner landed in New York's Hudson River after a flock of geese disabled both its engines. All 155 people on board survived. Last month, commuter plane fell on a house in a suburb of Buffalo, N.Y., killing all 49 passengers and a man in the home.
Before the Buffalo crash there hadn't been an accident involving a commercial airliner in the U.S. in which there were fatalities in more than two years.