Federal investigation begins after fatal Sonoma Valley plane crash
Federal aviation investigators Friday remained at the site of a deadly plane crash in the Sonoma Valley that killed William “Bill” Sachs Goldman, a San Francisco history professor and member of a renowned philanthropic family.
Goldman’s school-aged children, George and Marie, and their caretaker, Valeria Anselmi of Milan, Italy, were seriously injured in the crash during takeoff from Sonoma Skypark airport about 12:45 p.m. Thursday and rushed by helicopter and ground ambulances to area hospitals. Their conditions were not available Friday.
Goldman, 38, a University of San Francisco assistant professor of international studies, was piloting a single-engine Cirrus SR22 when the plane went down about two minutes after it took off, crashing in a nearby field east of Highway 12, according to official reports.
Federal investigators gave no preliminary assessment of what may have caused the crash.
National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Peter Knudson said an investigator from his agency and the Federal Aviation Administration as well as a technical expert from the airplane and engine manufacturers will participate in a several-day analysis of the crash site.
“They’re looking for any kind of indication something was amiss, with the engines, the power, a propeller,” Knudson said.
From there, the investigation could take six months to a year and involve reviewing the pilot’s record and background, the airplane’s condition and maintenance as well as factors on the ground that day, including weather, flight plans and communication systems.
Goldman’s airplane appeared to have deployed a ballistic parachute, a safety feature unique to a limited number of aircraft models and best used about 400 feet above ground. Investigators will analyze whether Goldman activated the parachute, which operates manually, or if it deployed on impact.
Last year, the manufacturer of Goldman’s airplane, Cirrus Aircraft, was given a safety award by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Air Safety Institute because of the company’s effort to improve its aircraft safety record, which hit a low in 2011 with 16 fatal accidents but has since improved, according to the safety institute.
A key factor to an improved safety record, with an accident rate at about half the industry average according to the organization, was getting pilots to activate the parachute more often.
The ballistic parachute is a unique feature of the plane and functions best at a minimum 400 feet above ground. Goldman’s plane crashed within about two minutes after takeoff and it’s unknown precisely how far above ground the aircraft reached.
Investigators may have to rely on witness statements to estimate the plane’s height because it’s possible the plane never reached an altitude where it might have been detected by radar, according to Knudson. That height depends on the terrain.
“We look at all of those things, and then we come to a determination of probable cause of the crash,” Knudson said.
Goldman was born in Washington, D.C., to Richard Goldman and Susan Sachs Goldman.
He is the grandson of Richard N. and Rhoda H. Goldman, who began the Goldman Environmental Prize honoring people involved in grassroots environmental efforts around the world, often called the “Green Nobel.”
Goldman is married to Serra Falk Goldman, a San Francisco attorney at Falk, Cornell & Associates law firm, who is on the USF School of Law Board of Trustees.