El Cajon Plane Crash Investigation Continues

EL CAJON (CNS) – Federal authorities are continuing today to investigate the crash of a business jet that slammed into a residential neighborhood near El Cajon after taking off from Orange County.

The eight-seater Learjet 35A business jet departed John Wayne Airport and crashed at 7:15 p.m. Monday near the 1200 block of Pepper Drive and North Mollison Avenue in the unincorporated Bostonia neighborhood, near Gillespie Field airport. All four people aboard died. No injuries on the ground were reported.

The plane, owned by Aeromedevac Air Ambulance, was operating as an air ambulance, with two pilots and two nurse/paramedics aboard.

CBS8 reported that the plane had flown a patient from Arizona to Orange County before attempting its return trip to Gillespie Field.

“It is with great sadness that we must share the devastating loss of our colleagues at Aeromedevac Air Ambulance on December 27, 2021,” the El Cajon-based company posted on its Facebook page Wednesday. “The loss of our friends has left us an indescribable void. To both us and their families, they are unsung heroes, dedicating their lives caring for others in need throughout our community.

“Our priority now is to support the well-being for the families of all our crew members. We are a close-knit air ambulance program that is united by our missions to care for our patients. Our team’s commitment to helping others has always been inspiring. We are honored and blessed to have worked with the crew members that we have lost, and we extend our heartfelt condolences to their families.”

The San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office on Wednesday identified two of the crash victims as Douglas James Grande, 45, and 67-year-old Julian Jorge Bugaj. A GoFundMe page was set up on Wednesday to help Bugaj’s family with funeral and other expenses. “Aside from being an actual lifesaver, he was an amazing provider for his family,” the organizer, who described himself as Bugaj’s son-in-law, wrote. More information can be found at gofundme.com/f/expenses-memorial-stability.

On Tuesday, the International Association of EMTs and Paramedics via its Facebook page identified a third victim as Local 162 President Laurie Gentz.

The IAEP “extends sincere condolences for the devastating and sudden loss of Local 162 President Laurie Gentz, her fellow passengers and the Learjet flight crew,” the post stated. “President Gentz will be greatly missed by all who knew her and all who benefit from her selfless contributions to organized labor in the Greater San Diego area.” the IAEP wrote on the Facebook page.

The union representing Oceanside firefighters, meanwhile, reported that the fourth victim was Tina Ward, a flight nurse and the wife of the department’s recently retired deputy chief, Joe Ward.

“It is with heavy hearts that the Oceanside Fire Department and their fire family would like to extend our deepest condolences to our recently retired Chief Ward, his family, and all family and friends of the Aeromedevac flight crew N880Z. Chief Ward’s wife, Tina, was a flight nurse on board of the aircraft that crashed last night in El Cajon,” Oceanside Firefighters Association 3736 posted on Instagram. “We are shocked and saddened by this devastating news and are keeping you all in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are leading the investigation into the crash.

The NTSB reported Tuesday that the plane was on an “instrument approach” to Runway 17 at Gillespie Field, but the pilot requested a change to a “visual approach” on Runway 27A.

“Shortly after air traffic control had cleared the airplane to land on Runway 27A, the airplane crashed into a residential area about 1.4 miles from the approach end of the runway,” according to the NTSB.

Federal investigators were expected to be on the scene for at least two more days. According to the NTSB, the plane was equipped with a cockpit voice recorder, but not a flight data recorder.

Anyone who witnessed the crash or has possibly relevant information was asked to contact the NTSB by emailing witness@ntsb.gov.

On Thursday, San Diego Gas & Electric announced on Twitter that power had been restored to customers who experienced outages because of the crash. “We thank our customers for their patience during this process,” SDGE wrote. “Our hearts and thoughts continue to be with all have been affected by this accident.”

The crash took down an unknown number of power lines, at one point knocking out power to more than 200 customers in the area. The American Red Cross provided assistance to residents who lost power.

One home was damaged by the crash, but no injuries were reported on the ground.

Witnesses on the ground told reporters that the crash occurred in very poor weather conditions, amid rain and thick fog.

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