The victim's light plane went down near the Petaluma airport Friday night.
He was headed home to Southern California in bad weather.
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The first Sonoma County Deputy to search for the distressed plane describes drenching rain and thick fog as the conditions Friday night.
"The emergency transponder went off and it's likely that he took off just prior to that," said Sgt. Spencer Crum of the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office.
Now, deputies guard the wreckage as the National Transportation Safety Board is expected to arrive Sunday.
The emergency transponder pinged while the plane was still in the air, so deputies started looking about a half mile north of the location, that's why it took them a while to find the wreckage.
"It took us about three and a half hours as you can see the plane is down in a mustard field and a deputy spotted a small fire," added Crum.
Deputies say the pilot likely died on impact.
Family members identify him as 75-year-old Carl Morrison, a San Diego resident whose legacy spans the state.
RELATED: Small plane crashes in Petaluma during storm
Region Vice Commander Col. Morrison was influential.
"He's an outstanding airman and we'll all miss him," said Lt. Col. Ray Peterson of the Civil Air Patrol. "He'll be remembered for passing legislation in California that gets our members recognized by their employers for their time off."
Civil Air members do search and rescue, mentor young pilots, and aerospace education. "If there was a free Saturday and a cadet needed a ride he was always out at the airport flying with them."
The Vietnam veteran retired from the United States Marine Corps after 20 years of service.
he ran a private legal firm and was in Petaluma consulting for the Sonoma County Water Agency.
"He was instrument rated, which means he could fly when you can't see the ground," added Peterson.
The NTSB will investigate the cause of the crash.
Family IDs #Petaluma plane crash victim as San Diego resident Carl Morrison. He was in town as a consultant w/ the Sonoma Co Water Agency. #VietnamVeteran & active member of @CivilAirPatrol. #abc7now pic.twitter.com/YfS0KQ6lIX— Katie Utehs (@KatieUtehs) April 8, 2018