TRUCKEE - Two people died in a fiery crash of a private jet attempting to land at the Truckee Tahoe Airport about 2:05 p.m. Wednesday, said Lt. George Malim of the Placer County Sheriff's Department.
The twin-engine Learjet had taken off from Twin Falls, Idaho, and was scheduled to pick up two passengers at Truckee Tahoe Airport en route to California, said Bruce Nelson, a Federal Aviation Administration operations officer in Los Angeles.
He said officials had yet to determine the cause of the crash, and neither the occupants nor the passengers they were coming to collect were immediately identified.
Emergency radio transmissions from first responders reported a "totally destroyed aircraft" with a "large debris area" on Martis Creek Dam Road, a half-mile southeast of the airport.
Truckee resident Mark Maisel was driving toward Truckee on Highway 267 when he saw the crash.
"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."
Brad Rabensteine of Truckee was one of the first on the scene. He was driving toward Truckee on Highway 267 when he saw the plane coming in for a landing.
"It made a hard-left bank turn. I don't know if the wind took it or what, but it went straight into the ground," Rabensteine said. "The ball of flame that went up was just unbelievable. We ran out there and there was nothing left."
Placer County Sgt. John Giovannini said no more victims were found during a search of the area. Officials from the Federal Aviation Administration arrived in the late afternoon, and National Traffic Safety Board officials were en route to conduct an investigation into the accident.
Martis Creek Dam Road is southeast of the airport and leads into a glider port and a campground. Both are closed for the season.
The road is closed to traffic in winter, but walkers and runners use the area.
According to the Automated Weather Observing System, conditions at the time of the crash included winds of 24 mph with gusts 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 has a "Turbulence and Density Altitude Warning."
"Mountains surround the airport," it reads. "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.-11 p.m. Snow removal equipment is operated round-the-clock to clear runways during and after snowstorms.