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Oxnard Doctor Dies After Single-Engine Plane Crashes : Accident: Richard M. McAtee had attempted to land in dense fog. His Beechcraft Bonanza slammed into a sand dune 2 1/2 miles from airport.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Federal investigators Sunday were sifting through the wreckage of a small plane that slammed into a sand dune in dense fog, killing the pilot and sole occupant, Oxnard physician Richard M. McAtee.

McAtee, 72, a semi-retired orthopedic physician and surgeon who had practiced medicine in Oxnard for 40 years, managed to crawl out of the cockpit after the crash at Mandalay State Beach, but he died on the operating table at an Oxnard hospital despite the efforts of six physicians who worked in vain to save their friend and colleague.

McAtee was declared dead at 8:37 p.m. Saturday, three hours after he attempted to land his single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza at Oxnard Airport in what federal investigators said was “zero visibility.”

His wife of 46 years, Jodi, and the couple’s six sons and two daughters were gathering at the McAtees’ Oxnard home Sunday.

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“He was a wonderful man,” said daughter Shay McAtee of San Pedro, “a sterling individual, the kind of man you wanted to be like.”

Dr. James Giles, who practiced with McAtee for 22 years at their Oxnard office, characterized his colleague as “a kindly gentleman, a family-doctor type.”

“He was really more concerned about patients than where they came from or what they did or what they could pay,” Giles said.

Giles said that McAtee was a fit, health-conscious man and that it is unlikely that his age was a factor in the accident.

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Darlene Morris, a medical assistant and office manager for McAtee and his partners, called McAtee “a man in a breed of his own.”

“He was the most gentle and genuine person I have yet to know,” said Morris, who had been doing secretarial work for McAtee when he testified as an expert witness for malpractice and other medical court cases.

“He liked to match wits with attorneys,” Giles said.

McAtee, an experienced pilot who had flown for 30 years, was returning home from the farm that the family owns in the Cuyama Valley on Saturday afternoon when he encountered heavy fog along the coast.

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He attempted to land at Oxnard Airport about 5:20 p.m. Saturday, but was unable to find the runway and pulled up for a second approach, authorities said. Shortly after, McAtee advised the tower that his plane was having difficulties and that he was possibly going down, authorities with Oxnard Airport and the National Transportation Safety Board said.

Tower personnel then heard a horn over the radio, followed by silence. They notified Oxnard police, who searched for the plane for about 15 minutes before finding it with the help of area residents.

McAtee was rushed to St. John’s Regional Medical Center, where his heart stopped twice on the operating table and was restarted before it stopped a final time, said Giles, who assisted with the emergency surgery.

McAtee died of multiple blunt-force injuries, said Dale Zentzis, Ventura County deputy coroner. Zentzis said that even if emergency personnel had found him immediately after the crash. it is unlikely that McAtee could have been saved because he had bled internally so profusely and because of the extent of his injuries.

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Federal investigators said the instruments on his plane were not sophisticated enough to allow him to land without actually seeing the runway. But, they said, it would be months before they know the cause of the accident.

“It’s too early for us to say how and why he crashed,” said George Petterson, an air safety investigator for the NTSB.

Authorities moved the aircraft Sunday to the NTSB facility in Long Beach, where they will continue the investigation.

While many residents living near the crash site, about 2 1/2 miles west of Oxnard Airport, said they did not hear anything, nearby resident Dr. Sam Dolan said he heard the aircraft flying over his house about 5:30 p.m.

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“I was barbecuing in my back yard when I heard this airplane go by,” said Dolan, who was also a friend of McAtee. “It seemed like it was flying really low and its motor did not sound right.”

Jodi McAtee said her husband, the first orthopedic doctor in Oxnard and the first orthopedic surgeon at St. John’s, flew as often as he could.

“He loved to fly,” she said. “He was an excellent pilot.”

In addition to his wife and daughter, McAtee is survived by daughter Mary Klepper of Buellton; sons Rick of Oxnard, John, Mark, Kevin and David of Ventura and Tom of Wisconsin; sister Jeanne Ugarte of Temecula; brother Patrick McAtee of Temecula and 13 grandchildren.

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Funeral Mass will be said at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at Santa Clara Church, 323 S. E St., Oxnard. Rosary will be said at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Mission San Buenaventura in Ventura. Arrangements were under the direction of Reardon Mortuary in Oxnard.


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