A preliminary aviation accident report on a fatal, single-engine plane crash at Tulloch Reservoir on Father’s Day released this week by the National Transportation Safety Board confirms the pilot who died, Trent F. Johnson, was on flying from Columbia Airport to Modesto City-County Airport, also known as Harry Sham Field.
Johnson, 58, of Modesto, was the registered owner of the plane, a yellow and silver-gray Piper PA-11 with N-number N209H. He was the only person in the 63-year-old Piper when it struck power lines and plunged into Tulloch Reservoir near the Poker Flat area about 11:45 a.m. June 16. Contract divers and deputies on search boats recovered Johnson’s body from the cockpit of his plane at Tulloch on June 18.
Johnson’s last flight was a personal flight that originated from Columbia Airport at an unknown time, according to the two-page preliminary report issued by the NTSB this week. The Piper, which had the words “Piper Cub Special” on the vertical stabilizer of its tail section, was destroyed when it impacted the water in Tulloch Reservoir near Copperopolis, the report states.
No flight plan was filed for Johnson’s flight on Father’s Day, the NTSB preliminary report states. Witnesses on Tulloch Reservoir observed Johnson’s plane strike power lines over the northeast channel of the reservoir. The crash occurred about 11 nautical navigation miles from Columbia Airport.
Witnesses reported Johnson’s plane was at a low altitude heading south when it struck the power lines and plunged into the reservoir in a nose-low attitude, the NTSB preliminary report states. Local law enforcement and contract divers found the plane about noon June 17 119 feet below the surface of Tulloch Reservoir, near and below the power lines.
Once Johnson’s body was recovered, the wreckage was recovered later the same day, June 18, and transported to an undisclosed, secure location for further examination, the NTSB preliminary report states. The Calaveras County coroner in Angels Camp confirmed Johnson’s identity June 19.
Conditions were clear with light, variable winds and visibility of 10 miles, the NTSB preliminary report states. There was no fire or explosion when the crash occurred.
The investigator in charge is Josh Cawthra, a senior aviation accident investigator with NTSB. Craig S. Miller with the Federal Aviation Administration in Sacramento is assisting. The NTSB did not travel to the scene of the plane crash, the NTSB preliminary report states. The National Transportation Safety Board is identified as the lead agency investigating the crash.
Specifics not included in the NTSB preliminary report include why Johnson was at Columbia Airport, where the Father’s Day Fly-In was underway, and why he flew over Tulloch Reservoir when the crash occurred. Witnesses said Johnson’s plane did a flyby and a wing-dip for people watching, before it struck power lines and plummeted nose-first into the reservoir.
To recover the pilot’s body and the submerged aircraft on June 18, local law enforcement contracted divers to use air bags to lift the plane about halfway to the reservoir surface, removed the pilot’s body, hoisted the plane onto a barge, and brought it to a boat ramp near Drifters Marina & Grill. From there it was loaded onto a truck for transport.
Johnson’s private pilot certificate was issued May 5, 2010, and he was required to wear corrective lenses, according to FAA records. Johnson’s Piper PA-11 had a valid certificate issued July 2012 through July 2021. The plane’s initial airworthiness date was Jan. 18, 1956.
Keith Holloway, a spokesperson for NTSB in the nation’s capital, said Wednesday he could not comment or respond to questions about the contents of the NTSB preliminary report because the NTSB investigation is ongoing.
The NTSB investigation will look at human, mechanical and environmental factors to determine a probable cause, Eric Weiss with the NTSB said in June. The investigation can take 12 to 24 months.
Contact Guy McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.