SCHELLVILLE, Calif. - A tragic loss for a prominent San Francisco family, as 38 year old William Goldman was identified as the pilot killed in a Thursday plane crash.
Goldman was the grandson of the late Richard and Rhoda Goldman.
They were renowned philanthropists who established the prestigious "Goldman Environmental Prize".
Goldman took off from the Sonoma Skypark, an airstrip south of the city of Sonoma, at about 12:45 p.m.
The Cirrus SR-22 crashed in a pasture about 1,000 yards from the airport.
"We heard this big explosion, and we thought oh no, people are playing with fireworks again," neighbor Linda Gilbert told KTVU.
Like other Schellville residents, she is accustomed to hearing planes overhead.
"Lots of times, they're pretty low, and we feel like we have to duck," smiled Gilbert, "but it's really sad, and unfortunate when something like this happens."
Bill Goldman was accompanied on the plane by his two grade-school age children George and Marie, and a woman, originally identified as his wife Serra, but believed to be the family's nanny.
All three passengers were hurt, injuries the fire department described as "severe."
The children were rushed by helicopter to Children's Hospital Oakland.
The adult was taken by ambulance to a Napa's Queen of the Valley Hospital.
Arriving paramedics tried to shield all of them from seeing Goldman, dead in the wreckage.
"We got multiple 911 calls when the crash happened," Sonoma County Sheriff's spokesperson Misti Harris told KTVU.
"Sheriff's deputies were dispatched right away. Fire and medical were dispatched right away. It's never a good thing when a plane goes down. Everybody tries to get there as quickly as possible."
Bill Goldman was an assistant professor of International Relations at University of San Francisco.
"We think something went wrong and he tried to turn around and get back," witness Tom Romano told KTVU.
Cirrus aircraft are fast and state-of-the-art.
The cost about a half-million dollars to buy and boast top-notch avionics and safety features, including a rocket-propelled parachute that deploys out the rear of the plane to slow its speed and allow for a soft landing in an emergency.
"We heard a release, it sounded like an air pressure release, maybe the parachute," observed Romano.
The parachute was splayed amid the plane wreckage, but whether it was unintentionally deployed, or deployed at too low an altitude, is still unknown.
"We could see the plane crashed facing the opposite direction he took off, so it seems he turned around, and was headed back to the airport because there was a problem," mused Romano.
It appears Goldman was an experienced recreational pilot, who also flew mercy missions, transporting critically ill patients and their families. NTSB and FAA investigators will return to the scene Friday to continue their investigation.
University of San Francisco released the following statement regarding Bill Goldman who was a faculty member:
The University of San Francisco community is devastated to learn of the death of faculty member Bill Goldman in a Sonoma County plane crash.
Bill, an assistant professor in international studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, was an accomplished scholar, a beloved and generous teacher, and a valued member of our community. He will be greatly missed by his colleagues, students, and the countless alumni who were inspired by him in and out of the classroom.
Bill's wife Serra is an alumna of the USF School of Law and a member of the university's Board of Trustees. We are standing in prayerful solidarity with her and with Bill and Serra's young children, George and Marie, now and in the days ahead.