SOUTH LAKE TAHOE - The pilot of a single-engine aircraft was killed when the plane crashed just after take-off from the Lake Tahoe Airport on Sunday afternoon, authorities said.
The plane took off from the airport about 1 p.m., but quickly experienced trouble and went down between the runway and the Upper Truckee River, said Marty Scheuerman, South Lake Tahoe Fire division chief of operations.
"It looks like he banked hard and came down just east of the airport," Scheuerman said.
The pilot was dead at the scene, Scheuerman said. His name was withheld pending notification of next-of-kin.
The plane was a fixed-wing, single-engine Cessna, said El Dorado Sheriff's Lt. Les Lovell. The pilot was apparently the lone occupant of the plane; emergency personnel searched the area but found no other passengers or victims, Lovell said.
Lake Tahoe resident James Wilson said he was hanging out with his girlfriend by the river and ran over to the aircraft after the crash to help.
"We heard the plane crash, my girlfriend thought it was a car crash. I said
'no it was a plane,'" Wilson said.
"Forty-five seconds after the crash, we heard screaming and yelling from a guy who actually saw the plane crash and I took off across the river, ran across the field. The guy tried to pull (the pilot's) body halfway out of the plane and could not get it out. Fuel was
dumping all over. ... I thought there was a fire that was going to start."
Wilson said the pilot's legs were stuck and he helped the other man get the body out of the plane.
The plane did not catch fire in the crash, Scheuerman said. Firefighters used absorbent material to clean up two to three gallons of spilled aviation gas, and the fuel did not get into water or critical habitat, Scheuerman added.
The cause of the crash remained under investigation. Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were on their way to the crash site Sunday afternoon.
South Lake Tahoe and Lake Valley firefighters responded to the scene, as well as officers from the South Lake Tahoe Police Department and El Dorado County Sheriff's Office.
Bill Schroeder, a master certified flight instructor who was at the crash scene Sunday afternoon, said there are important factors that pilots might overlook when taking off in Tahoe.
He said pilots have to be aware that Tahoe is at an altitude where the air is thinner. Also, pilots don¹t always calculate the weight of the plane and are not aware that the winds are different in Tahoe than they are in Sacramento and the Bay area.
"Any one of these things the pilot has to be aware of when they take off to fly,"
"Those are things pilots have to consider here, those are things that can have an effect on the aircraft performance," Schroeder said. "Pilots have to be aware of those things. It is very important."
Schroeder added that he does not know if any of those factors contributed to the crash, but are common errors that affect a plane's performance.