SF doctor killed in Napa Cty. plane crash

August 5, 2009 1:22:39 PM PDT
Federal investigators will try to determine the cause of a small plane crash in Napa County Wednesday morning that killed the pilot and started a grass fire. The plane went down on Watson Lane, near Highway 29, just outside American Canyon.

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The Napa County Sheriff's Office says 67-year-old Dr. Kenneth Ira Gottlieb was making a business flight with plans to later pick up his wife in New Mexico.

Hours after the crash, pieces of a single-engine Cessna-182 plane were still smoldering, scattered across a Napa County hillside. Chunks of ripped metal lay on blackened ground. A lone wheel was wedged between grape vines. The pilot did not survive.

"I would expect that the person piloting that plane did not live past the crash, which is a small blessing in this tragic time," said Napa County Sheriff Lt. Tracey Stuart.

The plane crashed on private property, land owned by Jaeger Vineyards. It's a somewhat remote location outside American Canyon's city limits, but it caught people's attention during the pre-dawn hours.

"Deputies on patrol noticed a glow in the sky east of American Canyon, east of Highway 29, and they started trying to figure out what that glow was, if we had fire," said Lt. Stuart.

The plane's impact did cause a grass fire, about one acre burned before CalFire crews reached the site and put it out. Salvador Ramos, who grows grapes on part of the land, says he found out what happened very early, because of the sudden surge of emergency vehicles.

"My foreman called me this morning. There were a lot of cars coming up here and then the neighbors heard the crash," said Ramos.

The FAA says the plane took off from the Napa County Airport, headed for Bakersfield, around 4:30 a.m. this morning. The airport is only a little more than a mile away from where the plane crashed.

Vineyard workers say planes typically pass over the hills there on their way to and from the local airport.

"I feel for the pilot it's too bad it happened," said Ramos.

Why this crash happened is still unknown. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating whether it was due to mechanical or pilot error.

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