Calaveras law enforcement and rescue personnel stand near the ruins of a plane crash Friday afternoon just off Highway 49. The plane was piloted by Russell Hackler Sr., of Danville. Maggie Beck / Union Democrat
A pilot killed Friday in an airplane crash near the Calaveras County-Maury Rasmussen Field Airport is described as experienced and accomplished, with exceptional skills.
The National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration are investigating the crash that killed Russell Hackler Sr., of Danville, on Friday just south of the airport.
Hackler's identity was confirmed Saturday by Calaveras County Coroner Kevin Raggio, who also said he read that Hackler was a seasoned pilot with 40 years experience.
The Calaveras County Sheriff's Office got the call at 3:42 p.m. Friday that a plane had gone down three-quarters of a mile south of the airport. Deputies confirmed the single-occupant aircraft was down, and its occupant had died at the scene.
The victim's son, Russell Hackler Jr., of Livermore, witnessed the crash from the airport.
Ian Gregor, communications manager of the FAA's Western-Pacific Region, said the airplane was a single-engine, home-built Coot A-Amphib, and was inbound to the airport when the crash occurred.
Angels Camp airline pilot Robert Davids, who also does FAA check rides (the equivalent of driver's license tests for pilots), met Hackler two years ago when he tested him for a multi-engine rating.
"He did perfect and passed the first time," Davids said.
Davids said Hackler recently became almost a regular at the San Andreas airport, flying his Beechcraft Bonanza airplane there from the Bay Area as often as three or four times a week.
On Friday, he was flying the Coot experimental seaplane, which Davids described as "kind of a rarity."
He didn't know whether Hackler owned the airplane.
"He was a very good pilot and a well-liked person around the airport," Davids said. "I didn't know him real well, but I and everyone up here liked him a lot."
Davids said this is the second fatal accident at or near the airport since it opened in 1982. The other was a decade ago, he said, when longtime Calaveras County resident Taylor Howard and his son were killed in a crash.
Gregor said the NTSB will be the lead investigative agency in this crash. He said the NTSB investigator usually releases a basic preliminary report within a week or two of an accident, but it typically takes months to come up with the probable cause.