Healdsburg pilot killed in plane crash along with award-winning chef

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A Healdsburg man was piloting a plane when it crashed into a pond in rural Colusa County on Monday, killing him and his passenger.

The Colusa County Sheriff’s Office said it found the bodies of Jeffrey Webber, 66, of Healdsburg, and Lionel Robin, 71, of Arnaudville, Louisiana, amid the wreckage. The small private plane was headed for Sonoma County, authorities said.

Deputies, an air squadron and a dive team responded to a 12:15 p.m. report from federal aviation officials that a plane carrying two passengers and a dog had crashed about 2½ miles south of Colusa. The plane had taken off from the Colusa County Airport about an hour earlier and was headed for the Healdsburg Municipal Airport, Assistant Sheriff Jim Saso said. It wasn’t clear exactly what time the plane crashed, or what caused its “steep” descent, he said.

Visibility was low around the time of the crash, said Greg Hinton, airport operations director.

Webber was piloting the plane, which didn’t issue a distress call, Saso said.

The two men were “best friends” who went hunting together, he said. Robin was a Cajun chef who in 2002 was named one of the Star Chefs for the James Beard Foundation, according to foundation records and his obituary.

Drake Fusaro, a fishing and hunting guide in the Butte Sink area, said Robin was in California to go duck hunting with Webber. The two had spent Saturday and Sunday duck hunting with Fusaro and various members of Webber’s family. He said Webber was a frequent customer of his and he had known him for years.

“He was a very special individual. He was always very energetic and he was there to have a good time,” Fusaro said.

In contrast to many duck hunters, he said, for Webber “it wasn’t about the kill or the quantity; it was about being out in the outdoors doing something that you love and spending time with the people who were there with us in the blind.”

He said Webber loved to joke and tell stories, and would do accents and impressions.

“That was the first thing that popped into my head when I heard the news, was I won’t get to hear his jokes anymore,” Fusaro said.

A brother of Webber’s reached by phone Wednesday said the family is preparing an obituary and had no further comment.

Sherbin Collette, the mayor of Henderson, Louisiana, said he was a close friend of Robin’s since grade school. He said Robin was a generous and kind-hearted man who had a passion for hunting and valued the companionship of his dog, Max.

It’s unclear whether the dog was the same one on the plane. That dog was found badly injured on a nearby road, was turned over to a veterinarian in Yuba City and is expected to survive, Saso said.

“I never talked to anybody in my life that said anything bad against him. He was that kind of man,” Collette said. “I told him a lot of times, I said, ‘Lionel, we should have more people on Earth like you.’”

Webber is listed as the manager of Healdsburg-based Chalk Hill Consulting Group, according to state records. The management consulting services group is listed as the registered owner of the 1984 fixed-wing, single- engine plane that crashed, according to FAA records.

Saso said the FAA and National Traffic Safety Board will investigate the cause of the crash. Neither agency responded to requests from the Sheriff’s Office and the wreckage remains in the pond, Saso said.

Amid short staffing during the ongoing government shutdown, the FAA was unable to provide details on the crash, a spokesman said.

The official cause of death hasn’t been released for the two men, Saso said.

You can reach Staff Writer Hannah Beausang at 707-521-5214 or hannah.beausang@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @hannahbeausang. You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Beale at 707-521-5205 or at andrew.beale@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @iambeale.

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