A small plane on a mission of mercy crashed into the Palo Alto Baylands Tuesday morning, killing the pilot and injuring two passengers, who were taken by ambulance to Stanford Trauma Center.
The pilot, a man in his 60s, was a volunteer for Angel Flight West, a nonprofit that provides free transportation to patients and family, the nonprofit confirmed. The passengers were a Lucile Packard Children's Hospital patient and a family member, said Angel Flight West Executive Director Josh Olson.
The pilot had aborted an initial landing at the airport and was attempting to regain altitude when the plane banked left and dove into a nearby slough at about 11 a.m., according to Chris Ray, a fueler with Rossi Aircraft, which operates out of the municipal airport.
He said he saw the white Mooney M20J approach the airstrip and bounce once on the tarmac before attempting a "go-around" maneuver. It looked to be going too low and slow to take off, however, and may have stalled, he told the Palo Alto Weekly.
Ray didn't see the crash, but he heard it and immediately went out in a truck to try to help. On the way, he picked up a nurse who had tried to wade out to the plane to render aid but was unable to because the mud was too thick, he said.
Upon arriving at the plane, which was in the Baylands northwest of the Palo Alto Duck Pond, they found a teenager in the back seat and an injured woman in the front seat, he said. They told him the pilot, who was in the mangled cockpit, was dead, which Palo Alto Fire Department Deputy Fire Chief Geo Blackshire confirmed to the Weekly.
Emergency responders used a 24-foot extension ladder as a bridge to gain access to the plane.
One passenger was able to walk to the ambulance and the other was placed on a gurney, Blackshire said.
The plane was coming in from Redding, Blackshire said.
The aircraft is registered to Placerville, California, resident W. John Spencer, FAA records show, but officials have not confirmed the identity of the pilot. Spencer is listed as a volunteer for Angel Flight West, which serves the western United States, including Alaska and Hawaii.
The nonprofit named him No. 2 Pilot of the Year in Southern California in 2015 for flying 47 missions. (Rankings were based on the number of missions flown). He was named Pilot of the Year again in 2016 for flying 32 missions as wingman.
"Our obvious main concern is for the welfare of the person on the aircraft and their loved ones. Our hope is that everyone is OK and that the families are comforted," Olson said.
Earlier this year, the 35-year-old nonprofit marked its 76,000th donated flight, Olson said.
Volunteer pilots are generous in giving their time and passion, he said, and "without them, none of this help would be possible."
Out of concern that airplane fuel may spill into the slough, city of Palo Alto staff is consulting with the U.S. Department of Fish and Game as well as other federal agencies prior to removing the plane from the slough, said Daren Anderson, the city's division manager for Open Space, Parks, and Golf. The work is legally required to be the least environmentally disruptive, he said.
Embarcadero Road north of the duck pond, at the entrance to the airport, is closed.
Both the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will investigate the crash, Blackshire said.
Two fire engine companies, two ambulances and the fire department's battalion chief responded to the scene on Tuesday morning.
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.