A San Diego couple and the owner of a Mexican radio station that broadcasts to the San Diego area died when their single-engine plane crashed during a thunderstorm near the Mexican city of Hermosillo, authorities said Tuesday.
Killed on Monday were John Skowran, a prominent radio engineering consultant, and his wife, Donna, of San Diego.
The pilot and owner of the plane was identified as Jose Luis Rivas Marentes, a pioneer in Mexican radio and owner of XHRM-FM (92.5), a Tijuana-based radio station with offices in Chula Vista.
Rivas, who owned the station for 25 years, and Skowran, a consultant for radio stations in the United States and Mexico, were well known in the San Diego radio community.
Ed Diaz, XHRM general manager, said "it's a considerable shock. He (Rivas) was a friend for 14 years. We worked together for many years. He was a kind and noble man."
Lee Mirabal, a former general manager at the station and local radio consultant and disc jockey, said Rivas and Skowran were widely admired in the radio community.
Rivas "was a grand gentleman, very religious, a wonderful man," Mirabal said. "And John was one of the most well-known engineers in San Diego. This is a terrible shame."
The plane left Friday from Tijuana International Airport, and a flight plan listed Los Mochis in the state of Sonora as the destination. Rivas and Skowran were on a business trip to meet with Mexican radio authorities to discuss engineering details about Rivas' plan to erect another radio tower in Tijuana, Diaz said.
Rivas, who lived in Guadalajara, and the Skowrans stayed in Los Mochis over the weekend and departed for the return trip to Tijuana at 1:30 p.m. from the Hermosillo airport, also in Sonora, about 600 miles southeast of San Diego.
U.S. Consulate spokesman Robert Witaejeski said farmers reported seeing the Cessna Malibu fly into a thunderstorm, where it apparently was struck by lightning before crashing and burning.
Rivas was an experienced pilot who flew planes in the military, Diaz said.
"They must have had a full tank of gas, because they were starting on a 600-mile flight, and I think what happened was that they hit the turbulence of the storm and couldn't turn around," Diaz said.
Mexican federal authorities recovered several documents, including passports, from which positive identification of the victims was being made at the scene, Witaejeski said.
Ownership of XHRM-FM transferred to Rivas' son Fernando Rivas, who is president of International Urban Broadcasting, the San Diego-based corporation that owns and operates the station, Diaz said. Rivas has another son, Luis Rivas Kaloyan.
XHRM-FM was involved in a controversy last year when Rivas canceled the station's sales rights leasing contract with Willie Morrow over a financial dispute and disagreement over the station's programming format.
Members of the local black community considered boycotting the station after accusations of racism were raised about the ousting of black entrepreneur Morrow.
Station officials denied the accusations, saying the move was made for financial reasons.