Four seriously injured in crash at Carson Airport

A single-engine plane carrying four passengers crashed less than a half mile from the end of Carson City Airport's runway Sunday. Two eyewitnesses say the pilot took off despite a rough sounding engine.

The blue and white Mooney 201 broke apart after it stalled and smashed into the sagebrush-covered hill at the airport's west end. All four aboard were seriously injured.

Jerry Polson and Louie Cuevano of Rancho Marrietta, Calif., said the aircraft crashed on its second attempt to take off from the airport shortly before 1 p.m. Theirs was the next aircraft in line to take off and they watched, helpless to do anything as the accident occurred.

"The first time I watched him, he was struggling halfway down the runway so he shut it off and pulled around behind us," said Polson, a veteran pilot with more than 1,000 hours air time.

He said the plane's motor sounded rough - "it was popping."

He said the pilot "leaned it out" and revved the motor to clear it and then pulled back onto the runway for another attempt to take off.

"And you can see this thing is struggling; he's not making any speed," said Polson.

"He was halfway down the runway and he was still not into the air," said Cuevano.

"So he horsed it into the air and he got about 5 feet," said Polson. "I'm yelling at him to get it up."

The two said the plane gained some altitude but was obviously in trouble.

"It wallowed above the runway for a while like this," Polson said waggling his hand side to side. "It kind of went up and then the airplane just quit flying."

As the two watched from Cuevano's aircraft at the end of the runway, the Mooney fell to one side.

"You could see the right wing go up and he stalled it. The left wing hit first and it cartwheeled," said Polson.

The engine landed 10 feet from the fuselage with propeller blades bent 90 degrees. The nose of the craft disintegrated leaving a tangle of metal and wiring where the instrument panel was and the cockpit ripped open.

The fuselage snapped in half behind the passenger compartment, leaving the tail at a right-angle to the rest of the plane. One wing was broken and the other badly bent.

"I'm a very low-hours pilot," said Cuevano, who just got his pilot's license about a month ago. "They teach you this over and over and it's like a very strange lesson to see it happen right in front of you. I hope those guys make it."

All four survived the crash. CareFlight took two male patients to Washoe Medical Center where they were first listed in critical condition but later upgraded to serious but stable condition. One female patient initially listed in serious condition was transported to the Reno facility by ambulance. She was later upgraded to satisfactory condition.

The remaining female passenger was initially transported to Carson-Tahoe Hospital for treatment but later transferred to Washoe Medical where she too was listed in satisfactory condition at 10 p.m.

None of the victims were identified pending notification of their families, but the plane was reportedly based in the Sacramento area.

Polson and Cuevano said the accident upset them enough that they planned to delay their return to California until the daytime temperatures dropped somewhat.

Polson explained that one problem the fully loaded Mooney may have had was the effect of "density altitude." That is the phenomenon created when very warm temperatures cause the air to "thin" as though the airport were at a much higher altitude. Instructors and airport officials regularly warn pilots - particularly those used to sea-level airports - that their plane may have much less lift at a high altitude airport like Carson City and that the effect is made more serious on a hot day.

But he said he thinks the rough sound the plane's engine made before the takeoff means it just wasn't working properly.

"It sounded like it didn't have enough power," he said.

Carson Sheriff's detectives were investigating the crash.

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