Family of 7, 3 Others Die in Plane Crash

Times Staff Writers

The shattered wreckage of a chartered twin-engine plane carrying five children, their parents and two other relatives on an outing from Las Vegas to Disneyland was found Monday on a chaparral-covered peak in Riverside County. All 10 aboard, including the pilot, were dead, authorities said.

The Cessna 402, flying in overcast, drizzly weather at midday Sunday, failed to clear a 2,274-foot crest by about 100 feet and slammed into the peak overlooking Hagador Canyon in the Santa Ana Mountains, scattering twisted metal, bodies and baggage over a 100-yard area.

The plane went down about 20 miles short of its destination, Orange County's John Wayne Airport.

Observer Shocked

"It was awful," said Steven Tur, a member of a KNX helicopter crew that first spotted the crash site in the Cleveland National Forest, southwest of here, at dawn Monday. "There were bodies everywhere. It was a shocking scene, especially because kids were involved. . . ."

The Riverside County coroner's office tentatively identified the victims as Michael Cranson, 36, a Las Vegas police officer; his wife, Raeann, 33; their five children, Shauna, 15, Stephanie, 14, Nicole, 12, Joshua, 11 and Kyle, 7; James Montano, 24, and Cynthia Montano, 23, identified in Las Vegas as Raeann Cranson's sister and brother-in-law.

The pilot was identified as Hassan Berro, co-owner of Las Vegas Flyers, which owned the downed Cessna.

Cranson, a 10-year police veteran, was an Explorer Scout leader and was president of the Sunrise Villa Ward of the Young Men's Mutual Improvement Assn., a Mormon youth group. His wife was a counselor in a Mormon children's group, said a spokeswoman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Nevada city.

"They were very excited," she said of the family. "They had been planning this as a family weekend together. They were very devoted to their church and always were concerned about each other. They were just a beautiful family."

Mormon Bishop Merrill Pugmire said the family was scheduled to return Monday night. They had reservations at the Disneyland Hotel.

"It was an ideal family, so full of love," neighbor Bob Roberts said. "Mike and Raeann were childhood sweethearts, were married and had this wonderful family."

Marty Kay, spokesman for the charter company, described pilot Berro as a "well-rated professional."

Asked about the probable cause, Kay said in a telephone interview, "It was nothing he (Berro) shouldn't have been able to handle."

Kay would not elaborate.

Crash Investigation

The crash was under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, whose crew arrived at the crash site late Monday morning.

The Cessna left McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas about 11 a.m. Sunday and was due in Orange County at 12:30 p.m. It was last reported at 12:07 p.m. on radar at an altitude of 2,100 feet near Corona.

Riverside County sheriff's deputies and Civil Air Patrol members began looking for the plane Sunday afternoon, but the search was halted because of darkness and the cold, drizzly weather.

Bob Tur, pilot of the KNX copter, spotted the wreckage in the rugged terrain, which is about a 10-minute flight from Corona Airport, and hovered his copter while the co-pilot, David Ganezer, alighted and was directed through heavy brush to the wreckage by radio.

After about 10 minutes, Ganezer reported "no signs of life," according to Steve Tur, the pilot's brother, who added that "we called to let the Riverside County sheriff's office know the location."

Authorities established a command post about a mile from the crash.

Members of the sheriff's Mountain Rescue Team were the first authorities to arrive in the vicinity. But heavy fog moved in and forced them to wait for an hour before they could be helicoptered to the crash site.

Coroner's Officials

Coroner's deputies also were airlifted to the wreckage. They found the victims' bodies scattered over a wide area.

"There were toys in the airplane, including two little stuffed Mickey Mouses," said Mickey Worthington of the coroner's office.

The remains of the victims were airlifted from the peak in a large white cloth bag suspended by cable from a helicopter. The bodies, which had been placed in red body bags, were taken from a collection point near the command post to the coroner's office.

Searchers located the Cessna's emergency locater transmitter, but noted that it was not broadcasting because its antenna had been broken, NTSB investigator Don Llorente said.

Officials with Martin Aviation Inc., a charter flight and airplane rental firm based at John Wayne Airport, said the Las Vegas-Orange County route is popular among Southland travelers who want to rent a plane for short trips. Martin charters unscheduled flights for that route about eight to 15 times each month, said marketing director Boyd Parker.

Although the Las Vegas-Orange County air corridor is heavily traveled and includes some mountainous terrain, it poses no unusual problems for pilots, Martin officials said.

Louis Sahagun reported from the crash site; John Kendall reported from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Eric Lichtblau in Orange County contributed to this article.

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