4 aboard Oakland-bound medical plane killed in crash

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A medical transport plane taking a patient from Humboldt County crashed en route to Oakland Airport, killing all four people on board when it went down in a densely forested area.

Three women and one man were on the plane when it went down. The Humboldt County Sheriff's Department spokesman said the four victims included a female patient, a nurse, a medic and the pilot. None of the victims are from the Bay Area. The patient was being transferred to a hospital in San Francisco.

"The patient's destination was California Pacific Medical Center in the Bay Area and it's very common for operations in Crescent City to transport people to the Bay," said Ron Walter, a spokesman for the parent company Reach Air Medical Services.

The Cal-Ore Life Flight's aircraft was a Piper Cheyenne PA 31, which departed from Crescent City in the early morning hours Friday. The pilot declared an emergency reporting smoke in the cabin about 1 a.m. and planned to turn around and head back to Crescent City. The plane disappeared from radar about five miles north of the Arcata-Eureka Airport.

The plane went down in a heavily forested area on private timberland, difficult terrain physically for Humboldt County Sheriff's Deputies' recovery operations and also a difficult sight, emotionally, seeing the extensive damage to the aircraft.

"It's about a quarter mile debris field. The plane broke up. Part of the plane was intact. We saw two deceased subjects in the cabin area of the plane," said Lt. Wayne Hanson, a Humboldt County Sheriff's Department spokesman.

The Sheriff's spokesman says the plane had caught on fire at some point, making retrieval and identification of the four bodies difficult.

"It's so remote that our search and rescue units on scene had no cell phone because there's no cell phone communication out there," Lt. Hanson said.

The aircraft is one of six in a fleet owned and operated by Cal-Ore Life Flight, based in Crescent City. The company has about 300 employees, according to Walter, who added that they were being offered grief counseling as they received word about their three colleagues.

The NTSB is expected to arrive at the scene late morning Saturday to investigate. Names of the victims are not being released until the coroner is able to notify family members.