It was a typical end-of-summer outing. Having never been to the lake area near Bakersfield, the family members decided to fly up for the long holiday weekend.
“They were supposed to have fun,” Sal Yaman, nephew of the Santa Monica resident who piloted the plane, said Saturday. “Now they’re all dead. There’s no fun left.”
The six, including two small children, were killed Friday when a private plane that took off from Santa Monica Airport crashed near Kern Valley Airport in the Sierra foothills, authorities said.
The victims, according to Yaman, included Adam Pasori, 56, the pilot; David Pasori, his brother, in his early 40s; Mila Kuygusuz, a sister also in her 40s; Kuygusuz’s two daughters, Nasrin, 5 months old, and Meriem, 2 years old; and Sibel, Adam Pasori’s wife, in her 30s.
The two brothers were in the property management and development business, said Yaman. Adam Pasori was chief executive of Cedar Management, which manages and develops properties throughout Southern California.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said their single-engine Lancair Columbia crashed and caught fire while on approach to the airport, which is near Lake Isabella, about 5:30 p.m.
National Transportation Safety Board investigator Tom Little, who arrived late Saturday afternoon, said the crash occurred about half a mile from the airport.
Flames from the wreckage engulfed the aircraft and ignited a one-acre grass fire, which firefighters quickly contained, authorities said.
“They were going to a lake in Bakersfield,” said Yaman, at an apartment in Santa Monica where at least 20 family members and friends had gathered to mourn. “According to the fire department, Adam wanted to land but had to turn around. When he went to make a U-turn. . . all of a sudden he loses control. He was 300 feet in the air.”
Yaman said Kuygusuz’s husband, Adam, was driving to Kern County to meet them.
“When he got there, the tragedy had already happened,” said Yaman. “An hour earlier, he was calling the family to see how they were, but there was no answer. When he sees all that activity [near the airport], he says, ‘This is it.’ The cops tell him no one survived.”
Jeltje Nelson, who with her husband Eugene manages the airport for Kern County, said she saw the plane as it approached the runway and heard no sounds of engine trouble.
“He was too high, and when he got a little way farther above the runway, he made a banking left turn to the west,” she said. “I turned my back and thought I’d talk to him on the [radio] about what the wind was doing, and then I heard two pops, and the plane was on the ground and on fire.”
Nelson said Kern County firefighters stationed nearby during the wildfire season quickly extinguished the blaze.
She said it was the first fatal crash at the airport in her 27 years of managing the facility.
At Santa Monica Airport on Saturday, two pilots said they were familiar with the Lancair aircraft.
Alex Sharpe, a retired truck mechanic and a pilot of 35 years, said that while working on his plane Friday afternoon he talked to one of the two men he knew to use the Lancair.
“He said they were going camping in Kern Valley,” Sharpe said.
Late Saturday afternoon, two cars were parked in the space where the cream-and-red Lancair is normally kept.
Sharpe and another pilot, film editor Alexander Gittinger, said the Lancair is a sophisticated aircraft.
“It’s a little more complex to handle than your standard plane,” Gittinger said. “Since it’s such a fast airplane, everything happens fast.”
Sharpe said the Lancair was a high-performance plane that “requires a more-than-gifted pilot.”
The approach to Kern Valley Airport, he added, is “tricky. You have to fly into a canyon and dodge a couple hills.”
The hot weather this week further complicates matters.
“In mountain terrain, the higher the elevation, the bigger the concern,” he said. “Hot air gives less lift and the engine has less horsepower. One of the bigger factors is landing speed. The hotter the temperature, the faster the approach and touch speed. You need more runway.”