3 family members from Sonoma County killed in Nebraska plane crash
A Nebraska plane crash claimed the lives of a Sonoma County family this week, tragically ending the Graton trio’s annual summer trip to a renowned aviation conference in Wisconsin and stunning friends and neighbors.
Damon and Sarah Brown and their adult son Duncan were killed Wednesday after their twin-engine Beechcraft Baron went down just north of the Chadron, Nebraska, municipal airport about 2:30 p.m., according to the Dawes County Coroner and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Damon Brown, 61, worked at the EBA Engineering firm in Santa Rosa and had a background in geology, like his wife, Sarah, 68, who authored a series of novels featuring a geologist who solves mysteries. Their only child, Duncan, 25, a graduate of Sebastopol’s Analy High School, worked at a local architecture firm after returning from college in Southern California.
All three were pilots, though it appeared that Sarah had let her license expire, according to the FAA. A family friend said they were in the Midwest to attend the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture convention, one of the largest aviation gatherings in the country.
Family friend Nancy Saylor said that Sarah Brown recently told her over lunch that the three were especially looking forward to this year’s trip to Wisconsin.
“It was a big thing for them. They really had a fabulous time there every year, camping and sharing and bringing up memories,” said Saylor, a longtime teacher at Graton’s Oak Grove Elementary School who met the family when Duncan was a student.
It was not immediately clear what caused the crash. Weather in Chadron at the time was calm and clear, with light south winds between 5 to 10 mph, according to a National Weather Service meteorologist based in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
The National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation of the crash and expects to report preliminary findings within two weeks, though final findings won’t be released for months or even over a year, according to Eric Weiss, an NTSB spokesman.
The three lived together in a home off Graton Road.
The Browns were strongly connected to the Graton community, where they’d lived most of Duncan’s life and where he’d attended Oak Grove Elementary School. Sarah Brown had volunteered at the school and at the nearby Hallberg historic butterfly garden. She also belonged to the Graton Community Club.
“They were very active in Graton,” Saylor said.
Under her maiden name, Sarah Andrews, Sarah Brown wrote a series of novels chronicling the adventures of a female forensic geologist, Em Hansen. Her tales did well enough to warrant more than 10 books, and positive testimonies from readers on Goodreads, a social media site dedicated to reading, indicate that her work hit home with people who loved finding a good murder mystery with rooted in-depth knowledge of the natural world.
“She weaves the mystery with lots of talk of geology, ecology, and evolution/ creationism,” a Goodreads reviewer wrote of “Rock Bottom,” a later book in the Em Hansen series. “Sometimes it was a lot of geology, but it was all interesting.”
Damon Brown was a member of the Experimental Aircraft Association, host of the Wisconsin conference that a spokesman, Dick Knapinski, described as “aviation’s family reunion.” Over this week, it was expected to draw more than 10,000 airplanes and 500,000 people for hundreds of seminars and exhibits and daily afternoon air shows, Knapinski said.