Federal investigators are trying to determine what caused a Learjet 35 to crash near San Diego Monday night, killing all four people on board. The plane, which was being used by a company called Aeromedevac Air Ambulance, crashed while returning to Gillespie Field after taking a patient from Arizona to Orange County, CBS 8 reports. Friends and relatives have confirmed that two flight nurses were among the victims, reports NBC. One of them was identified as Laurie Gentz, president of the International Association of EMTs and Paramedics. The Oceanside Firefighters Association said Tina Ward, wife of the recently retired fire chief, also died in the crash.
Authorities said the crash around 7pm knocked out power to hundreds of homes in the El Cajon area, the AP reports. A chilling recording of radio communications between the twin-engine jet and the airfield suggest that things rapidly went wrong when the pilot was preparing to land. After asking to switch to another runway and use visual flight rules instead of instrument rules, the pilot asked for the field lights to be turned up. After being told the lights were already at 100%, the pilot could be heard swearing and then screaming. Authorities say nobody on the ground was injured in the crash, but a home was damaged.
Witnesses said the weather was "super foggy" Monday night, with heavy rain and very low visibility at the time of the crash. Safety experts say the pilot was attempting a difficult circle-to-land approach at a very low altitude. "If you strip apart everything else about the accident, the key is he appears to have been very, very low for what he was doing,” flight instructor Max Trescott tells the San Diego Union-Tribune. "It doesn’t make sense that he would have been that low under any circumstances." (Read more plane crash stories.)