Sadly air crashes, and fatal air crashes are a daily part of life in the U.S. and most parts of the world. Logon on to the NTSB's accident database, and click on the "list of accidents by month" and you will see that not a month goes by that numerous fatal air crashes don't occur. The sudden loss of any innocent life is always sad and tragic.
As a part of the aviation community learning of a fatal air crash is not only a sad event, but prompts a certain amount of thought and reflection for the victim(s) and their families. It is a constant reminder that even though flying is an enjoyable and exhilarating thing for most of us, it can turn deadly in an instant. In a strange way we honor those aviators who lose their lives by studying what went wrong, and what if any mistakes were made. In doing so we hope to avoid the same mistakes, and become safer and better pilots in the process.
Though not a common occurrence, San Diego County has it's share of air crashes. Some of these crashes happen in remote and rugged parts of the county that I have so often spoken of on this site. When a crash does happen in a remote or mountianous region of the county it is often a weather related accident. Depending on the location of the crash, and whether there is access by ground, it is often up to the San Diego Sheriff's Aviation Division to coordinate the moving of investigators into the site, and removal of the victims.
One such air crash occurred on 10-17-05 on a remote mountain top at the 6,100 foot level, in the far north eastern part of San Diego County. I was a new TFO and this would be my first air crash. You can read an account of this incident in the "calls for service-San Diego Sheriff's" section, (should be posted within a day or two of this post.)
In July of 07 one of our patrol aircraft was flying in a canyon, near three sisters falls, when they came across an unreported small plane crash. Though the crash was not in the far reaches of the county it was still in a very rugged and semi-remote location accessed only by helicopter and hiking trails. The small Cessna aircraft had two occupants when it went down in the canyon. It is "speculated" that the plane may have been flying low level in the canyon when something went wrong. Over the next day or two Sheriff's ASTREA helicopters shuttled investigators in, and flew the bodies of the victims out.
One day my partner and I received a radio call of a small plane that possibly made an emergency landing approximately 9 miles south east of Ramona Airport. Initial reports were that the pilot was ok. After a few minutes of searching we located the plane in a relatively flat farm field. We landed nearby and I got out the contact the pilot, just to make sure he was ok and offer any assistance. As I reached the plane a friendly old man with a huge grin on his face grabbed me and gave me a big hug. He was obviously overjoyed to be alive and just felt like hugging someone!
In talking to the pilot he stated that he had been flying small airplanes for over 30 years, and this was the first time he ever had a complete engine failure. He was inbound for Ramona airport and was talking to the tower, when the engine just shuttered, and quit. He managed to put the plane down in the field with not so much as a scratch.
Responding to air crashes is a part of our mission in the Aviation Division, but it's one mission where I prefer there not be a need.