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Plane Crash Kills Family of Four Near Chino Strip

Times Staff Writer

A San Gabriel couple and their two children returning from a Memorial Day weekend trip to Canada were killed early Tuesday when their single-engine plane slammed into a fog-shrouded hill near here, authorities said.

Found dead inside the wreckage were Thomas D. Cooper, 33, who was piloting the plane; his wife, Toni P. Cooper, 33; and their children, Bryan, 9, and Nichole, 7, a spokesman for the San Bernardino County coroner’s office said.

San Bernardino County Sheriff’s investigators at the scene said the children, who were sitting in the back of the four-seat Piper Cherokee Dakota, apparently were sleeping when the crash occurred at 2:17 a.m. near the crest of an 800-foot hill, about six miles south of Chino Airport.

“The boy was hugging a teddy bear,” said Sheriff’s Sgt. Del Wiedeman, who helped remove the bodies from the wreckage. Wiedeman theorized that “the pilot may have got into trouble with the fog.”

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The plane had been rented Thursday at El Monte Airport for a flight to Vancouver, B.C., Sheriff’s spokesman Jim Bryant said.

Friends of the Coopers said the family had gone to Vancover to visit the Expo ’86 World’s Fair there. Thomas Cooper had received his pilot’s license only a few months ago, they said.

The plane was on the return flight from Vancouver when it crashed, according to Gary Mucho, supervisor for the National Transportation Safety Board’s regional office in Los Angeles. He said the pilot had filed a visual flight plan--meaning that he would fly by sight, not through instruments--with Federal Aviation Administration Flight Service officials.

“There was no indication that the pilot was instrument rated,” Mucho said.

The plane made a fuel stop in Fresno before continuing on its way to its intended destination at El Monte Airport, he said.

Bryant said there was voice communication between the pilot and Burbank Airport at about 2 a.m., at which time Cooper said he was about eight miles west of El Monte. The sheriff’s spokesman said he believed that the communication was routine and that Cooper had called the tower while flying nearby at an altitude of about 2,000 feet.

At 2:17 a.m., the plane’s emergency locater beacon went off, indicating that it had crashed, Bryant said.

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John Abbott, a Civil Air Patrol investigator, traced the emergency locater beacon to the aircraft by about 6:30 a.m. Chino Fire Department officials and rescue teams arrived at the scene about an hour later, Mucho said.

The transportation board’s investigation into the cause of the crash will focus on the weather conditions, pilot qualifications and the mechanical condition of the aircraft, Mucho said.

A neighbor in San Gabriel described the Coopers as an “adventurous” family that enjoyed outdoor activities.

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Thomas Cooper was a construction contractor, and Toni Cooper taught a third- and fourth-grade combination class at Emery Park School in Alhambra. Janice Mangerino, a colleague, described her as “a very enthusiastic teacher who did a lot of little things for everyone.”


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