Missing California small medical plane found, at least two dead

Posted at 10:18 AM, Jul 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-29 15:11:52-04

Authorities found the wreckage of a small medical transport plane with four people aboard and confirmed at least two deaths Friday after the pilot reported smoke filling the cockpit and a search started across a densely forested mountain range in Northern California.

The Piper PA31 was carrying a flight nurse, a transport medic and a patient about 360 miles from Crescent City, near the Oregon border, to Oakland when the pilot declared an emergency around 1 a.m.

The Humboldt County Sheriff's Office, which led the pursuit on the ground, did not immediately release information about the fates of the other two people aboard.

Rescue teams found the crash site on remote land owned by a private timber company in Humboldt County, about 280 miles north of San Francisco. Sheriff's Lt. Wayne Hanson confirmed the deaths.

The plane lost contact early in the flight path, the Federal Aviation Administration said. The pilot planned to return to Crescent City before the plane vanished from radar 5 miles north of the Arcata-Eureka Airport on the far northern coast, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said.

The plane is part of Cal-Ore Life Flight, a small company of about six planes that transports patients throughout Northern California and Oregon.

Don Wharton, a spokesman for parent company REACH Air Medical Services, previously said flights at night are common. He was not immediately available for comment on the deaths.

The National Transportation and Safety Board was notified of the crash.