Pilot killed in plane crash near Petaluma Municipal Airport

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The pilot of an ultralight aircraft died Friday afternoon when his plane crashed in a rural area of Petaluma near the city’s Municipal Airport, Sonoma County sheriff’s officials said.

Witnesses described watching the craft spiral toward the ground before it crashed, and one man said he noticed a wing appeared to have folded up. The experimental Quicksilver MXL II crashed under unknown circumstances, said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor.

The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the accident, with the latter serving as the lead investigative agency, Gregor said.

Multiple people began calling 911 at about 12:30 p.m. Friday to report a plane crash in a field off Frates Road, across the street from the PG&E Lakeville substation, Sonoma County Sheriff’s Lt. Greg Miller said. The location is in the general area of the airport’s southeastern approach.

The sheriff’s helicopter crew Henry 1 helped emergency responders find the crashed aircraft in a field with nearby vineyards about a half-mile south of the intersection of Frates and Adobe roads.

The craft is a lightweight, fixed-wing, single-engine airplane that resembles a glider. It retails new for about $24,000 and used from $7,000 to $10,000.

Emergency personnel confirmed that the pilot had died, Miller said. The identity of the pilot, who was the sole occupant in the two-seat craft, was not immediately available as coroner staff worked to notify the person’s family.

The plane was owned by a Petaluma man who purchased it last April, according to a match of its tail number on an FAA database. It was manufactured in 1984 and required a pilot’s license to fly.

Near the crash scene, John Naas, 43, of Rohnert Park was watching the aircraft as he talking with a co-worker outside of their offices at Labcon North American on Lakeville Highway near Frates Road.

“I took my eyes off of him for a minute, looked up and saw that his wing had folded up and he was going down,” Naas said.

Russel Fones, 34, of Petaluma was out walking on paths off Cypress Drive near Shollenberger Park when he heard a noise, looked up and saw a small plane spiraling downward.

“I thought he was just doing a stunt but he just kept going straight down until he disappeared below the horizon,” Fones said.

“Ten seconds later I heard it go boom when it hit the ground,” he said.

He said he then saw and heard fire trucks and other emergency vehicles rushing toward the crash site.

The Petaluma airport handles about 60,000 take-offs and landings each year, manager Bob Patterson said, noting that it includes ultralight aircrafts such as the light sports plane similar to the one that crashed Friday.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem. You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell.

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