Two killed in glider crash
The former head of the Federal Aviation Administration and a veteran soaring champion were killed Tuesday when the wings fell off their glider and the aircraft plummeted 2,000 feet to the ground.
Tom Stowers, owner of High Country Soaring at the Minden-Tahoe Airport, identified the victims as Don Engen, 75, the former FAA chief, and Bill Ivens, 70, of San Diego.
Ivens was a former president of the Professional Soaring Society of America.
Stowers said Tuesday that Ivens and Engen had taken up the motorized glider that crashed at 1:30 p.m.
There were no survivors from the accident, which occurred five miles southeast of the Minden-Tahoe Airport shortly before a brief thunderstorm.
East Fork Fire Chief Jim Reinhardt, who was first on the scene along with Deputy Fire Chief Steve Eisele, speculated the motorized glider broke apart due to severe wind conditions. He said two other gliders were in the air and witnessed the accident, but they landed safely.
Identities of the victims were withheld pending notification of next of kin.
“My guess, based on the weather conditions, is that there was a wind shear and the aircraft broke apart,” Reinhardt said. “There was no midair collision.”
He said portions of the wings were found a quarter-mile away from where the fuselage came to rest.
“They were up there quite a ways. It was probably a couple thousand feet above the ground,” said Reinhardt, who with Eisele found the remains of the victims. “It was shocking. I realized immediately there were no survivors.”
The crash occurred on East Valley Road near Eldon Lane in Minden, about five miles southeast of the Minden-Tahoe Airport. Witnesses said other aircraft in the area immediately began circling the site, probably to assist emergency crews in locating it.
n Boys witness crash. Keston Denny, 11, and his brother Grant, 6, were talking to their horse trainer when they looked up and saw a wing snap off the glider.
“We were just walking over to the pasture and we heard the bang,” said Keston. “We couldn’t hear anything except when the wing snapped off. Then it just went straight down into the ground and then there was a big bang.”
The boys’ trainer jumped on one of the horses to search for the downed craft while Keston ran inside to tell their mother, who called 911. Later, they found the severed wing.
Keston said the glider had separated from a tow plane less than a minute before the crash.
“They let the glider off and they took a real sharp turn,” he said. “We heard an explosion, then the tip of the wing snapped off and we saw it flutter down. The airplane went straight down into the ground, just like a nose dive.”
His mother, Cindy, saddled a horse and joined the trainer searching for the plane. She said the trainer found a hat that was probably worn by one of the occupants near the scene.
Keston said the crash appeared closer than it actually was. The family’s home is near a bank of foothills, and he said the glider appeared to dive directly onto them. Cindy estimated the actual distance at a few miles.
Keston and Cindy said the experience was surreal. They often see gliders and planes in the sky around their home, which is east of Minden-Tahoe Airport.
n Is this real? “You could see stuff falling out of the sky. You could see pieces and parts of metal,” said Cindy. “We’ve seen them lots of times when it looks like ‘are they going to crash?’ You look at it, and you kind of think, ‘is this real?'”
“Once I saw it go straight into the ground, I knew it was something that really happened,” added Keston.
Emergency personnel responded to the accident from the East Fork Fire and Paramedic districts, Johnson Lane Volunteer Fire Department, Douglas County Engine Co., Douglas County Search and Rescue Team, and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
Investigators were on scene from the Federal Aviation Administration office in Reno.
Tuesday’s accident was the second fatal crash in a month at Minden-Tahoe Airport, a popular national and world site for soaring. Pilot Clem Bowman of Florida died June 13 in an accident during a national soaring competition.
Staff writer Christina Nelson contributed to this story.