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7 Killed as 2 Planes Crash in Bay Area, Kern County

Times Staff Writer

All six people aboard a private, twin-engine plane died Saturday when the aircraft plunged into San Francisco Bay, and one person died when a single-engine plane en route to Bakersfield from Hawthorne crashed at the foothills of the Tehachapi Mountains, authorities said.

The only survivor of the two crashes was John Erick Howerton, 34, of Hawthorne, the pilot of the single-engine plane, authorities said. Howerton was in fair condition at Antelope Valley Medical Center in Lancaster with first- and second-degree burns to his face and right hand, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Kern County Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Hill said the plane Howerton was flying is part of a Hawthorne-based air-taxi service owned by Paul Gundersen. The company, Hawthorne Aviation, has been linked to four other crashes or forced landings this year, including a recent incident in which a pedestrian was killed by an airplane making an emergency landing on a busy Los Angeles street, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Names Withheld

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Gundersen could not be reached for comment Saturday, and an employee at Hawthorne Aviation declined to comment.

The San Mateo County coroner’s office listed the victims from the crash in San Francisco Bay as Olga Alonso of Mexico; Gilbert Bair of Foster City, Calif.; Janice Beinke of San Francisco; Steven Jacobs, the pilot, reportedly of Palo Alto; Sharon Pappas, address unknown, and George Wright of Napa.

The name of the victim of the plane crash in the Tehachapi Mountains was withheld pending notification of relatives.

Hill and an FAA spokesman said Howerton’s passenger died when the red-and-white Piper Cherokee crashed Friday night near the Los Angeles County-Kern County border, about 10 miles east of Gorman. Authorities began a search for the aircraft shortly after 7 p.m. Friday, when the plane was scheduled to arrive in Bakersfield.

Howerton apparently wandered through the rugged, remote territory Friday night until he came upon a group of hunters who called authorities about 11:30 a.m. Saturday, authorities said. The FAA spokesman said Howerton was “incoherent” Saturday and was unable to give details of the accident.

In Northern California, Coast Guard spokesman Grant Bell said the twin-engine Beachcraft BE-20 had just taken off from Palo Alto Airport en route to Tijuana when the plane banked sharply and plunged into the water about 200 yards offshore of East Palo Alto. Bell said the weather was clear at the time of the accident, which was reported by a fisherman at 7:15 a.m.

The pilot owned the plane, he said. The victims were recovered from the bay by the fisherman and Coast Guard rescue crews, he said.

The FAA spokesman said the causes of the two crashes were unknown. National Transportation Safety Board investigators were at the two scenes Saturday, he said.

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