Pilot killed in Palo Alto crash was volunteer for medical flight nonprofit

W. John Spencer
(Angel Flight West)

The pilot killed Tuesday in a plane crash near the Palo Alto Airport was a dedicated volunteer who flew dozens of families to receive medical care.

W. John Spencer, of Placerville, was flying a patient and her mother from Redding to Palo Alto for an appointment at a children’s hospital when his plane crashed near the runway.

The flight was organized through Angel Flight West, which provides people with serious healthcare needs with donated flights to help them make appointments and surgeries. The Santa Monica-based nonprofit organizes 15 to 20 flights a day.

Spencer began volunteering as a pilot for Angel Flight West in 2014 and has served more than 75 families with 125 flights to help them receive care, according to officials with the organization.


“He will be greatly missed by the staff at Angel Flight West and his fellow volunteers,” executive director Josh Olson said in a statement.

Spencer was piloting a single-engine Mooney M20 when it crashed about 11:10 a.m. Tuesday while he was executing a “go around” — a common aircraft maneuver performed when the pilot is not satisfied the requirements are in place for a safe landing. The plane crashed in a duck pond about a quarter of a mile off the departure end of Runway 13, said Ian Gregor, a spokesman with the Federal Aviation Administration.

The two female passengers were transported to Stanford Trauma Center and are recovering.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.