A prominent Palo Alto patent lawyer and his fiancée were killed Friday after the private plane he was piloting hit a tree, caught fire and crashed near Yosemite National Park.
Sgt. Jeff Wilson, spokesman for the Tuolomne County Sheriff's Department, said the plane crashed at about 7:17 p.m. Friday, killing Albert Halluin, 70, and Judy Perchonock, 60.
Halluin, a biotech patent lawyer at Palo Alto firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, owns a house in Groveland, near the crash site. The company's website describes him as "one of the nation's most prominent biotechnology patent lawyers and strategists."
The website also noted that Halluin was an "instrument-level pilot" -- a certification issued to pilots who have received extra training and are authorized to fly in conditions of low visibility.
But Wilson said authorities believe the foggy weather was largely responsible for Halluin's crash. He was trying to make a second approach to landing because he couldn't see the airfield, Wilson said. Halluin's vision may have been obstructed by rain and fog, he said.
Wilson said a witness reported seeing a plane hit a tree and catch fire before it landed.
"He may have struck a tree top, causing a fuel leak -- which explains why the plane might have been on fire," Wilson said,
After landing, the plane slid into a back yard of a nearby home, but did not hit any structures, Wilson said. The Federal Aviation Association and National Transportation Safety Board are both investigating the incident.
Halluin's work in patent law has largely focused on the field of biotechnology, according to his firm's profile. Since joining Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati in 2004, Halluin had served as the firm's general counsel and worked on patents involving stem-cell technology, recombinant DNA, protein chemistry and immunology.
Before joining the Palo Alto firm, Halluin worked at Cetus Corporation, Exxon, CPC International and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He had also earned nine patents for his own inventions.
Halluin earned a bachelor's degree from Louisiana State University and a law degree from the University of Baltimore of Law. In 2006, the law school had inducted Halluin into its Hall of Fame.