A Palo Alto pilot was killed and his wife was injured after their private plane crashed in a wooded area in South Lake Tahoe Monday, the El Dorado County Sheriff Department confirmed.
Steve Lefton, 67, died on impact after his 1963 single-engine Mooney airplane crashed shortly after takeoff from Lake Tahoe Airport at approximately 11:10 a.m., Lt. Pete Van Arnum said.
The Leftons were returning to the Palo Alto Municipal Airport after a family gathering at a cabin in South Lake Tahoe. Some of the relatives were still at the cabin, including the Leftons' daughter.
Aircraft registration records show that Lefton registered the plane in 1973.
Numerous witnesses saw the plane begin to lose altitude after takeoff and bank sharply into a wooded area east of the airport. The plane crashed into large pine trees and flipped over.
The area is forested and is near a meadow with hiking trails and is near two housing developments, Van Arnum said. The plane crashed next to a dirt road.
Off-duty CalStar flight nurse Beth Frisby was walking her dog in the area, and came upon the wreckage. She provided medical aid and comfort to Karen Lefton for several minutes until deputies, medics and firefighters from Lake Valley Fire Department arrived.
Fuel was leaking from the ruptured fuel tanks in the wings, and fire department personnel sprayed fire retardant foam onto the plane while medics and firefighters removed Karen Lefton from the wreckage. She sustained moderate injuries and was pinned in the wreckage of the upside-down plane. She was flown by CalStar to Renown Hospital in Reno, Nev. and is expected to survive, Van Arnum said.
Longtime friend Barbara Spreng has known the Leftons for 30 years. They are her son's godparents, she said.
"He has been flying since he was in his early 20s. He was a very experienced pilot," she said.
Lefton recently retired from his job as a failure-analysis engineer who specialized in electric utilities.
"They were wonderful, loving people. They were an amazing, fun-loving family, sweet and kind," she said. The couple has five grandchildren, she said.
Cal Fire, the U.S. Forest Service, South Lake Tahoe Fire Department, South Lake Tahoe Police Department, and California Highway Patrol assisted with the rescue. The wreckage is expected to be removed from the scene in couple of days.
Investigators from The Federal Aviation Administration are the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigating the crash, Van Arnum said.
July 26 update: The family requests that in lieu of flowers contributions in Steve Lefton's name be sent to: Peninsula Open Space Trust, 222 High St., Palo Alto, CA 94301