Clipped From The San Bernardino County Sun
Three killed in Hesperia plane crash By Ralph Montano Sun Staff Writer HESPERIA A small plane crashed Tuesday afternoon when it clipped a powerline shortly after takeoff, killing all three on board and sparking a 150-acre brush fire. Those on board apparently knew immediately that the plane was in trouble and began throwing out luggage in a vain effort to lighten the craft and help it gain altitude, said San Bernardino County Sheriffs spokesman Chip Patterson. "The plane was very low, according to our witness," Pat terson said. "Apparently, the plane clipped the top wire of a high-tension line, crashed and burned." Deputies found baggage strewn along the dusty hills and turned it over to the coroner's office to help identify the charred bodies. Local pilots said the plane may have had trouble gaining altitude because of the hot weather. Locals don't use the 3,400-foot-elevation airport on extremely hot days because the thin air makes it difficult to gain enough altitude to clear the hills on three sides of the airport, said Hesperia pilot Sandi Bilewitch. "If you're going to fly, you don't fuel up as much," said Bile-witch. "You keep your loads light." The Piper Arrow left the Hesperia Airport shortly before 2 p.m. and crashed within minutes after striking the powerline about three miles southwest, officials said. The resulting brushfire was contained by 6 p.m. No one on the ground was hurt. The plane was registered to Jerry Neil Wellnitz, 64, of La Mesa. But the identities of the dead two men and a woman had not been confirmed late Tuesday, coroner's officials said. The crash occurred next to Summit Valley Road and railroad tracks, and flames spread south into rolling foothills. A Santa Fe railroad official said trains were stopped while wires were removed from the tracks. The crash briefly dimmed lights for thousands of Southern California Edison customers and knocked out about 2,000 traffic signals in the Los Angeles area. PhotoA2 Sun Staff Writer Steven Church contributed to this report.