Piece of airplane tail found near reported crash site in Delta waters

A piece of what is believed to be a Piper Cherokee single-engine airplane was located about 6:45 p.m. Sunday in Broad Slough north of Antioch, about an hour after a witness told authorities a small plane went down in the San Joaquin River, a Contra Costa County Fire Protection District spokesman said.

The piece of the airplane tail is thought to be from an aircraft that departed Buchanan Field in Concord, with one person aboard, a short time before the crash, said fire district spokesman Steve Hill. The plane, Hill said, had been rented from Sterling Aviation, based at the Concord airport. 

Calls to Sterling Aviation early Sunday night went unanswered.

Fire crews in one of three boats the fire protection district is using found the piece of the tail just west of Kimball Island in the river north of Antioch and Pittsburg. A backpack and aeronautical charts had also been recovered by 7:30 p.m. Sunday, he said.

Hill said the fire district is handing the investigation over Sunday night to the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Department, whose dive teams have already been called in to search the water for wreckage (the fire district does not employ divers, Hill said). The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board have already been contacted about the accident, Hill said.

Further information about the plane or its pilot wasn't immediately available Sunday night.