An investigator from the National Transportation Safety Board arrived in Fresno on Tuesday morning to begin the investigation of the crash of a light airplane in which two men died Monday afternoon after taking off from Sierra Sky Park in northwest Fresno.
The investigator’s arrival coincided with the identification of the pilot of the Express S-90 plane as William Huene, 47, of Fresno, by the Fresno County coroner. Huene died along with family friend Chase Splan, 32, also of Fresno, after the Express S-90 experimental aircraft took off from Sierra Sky Park about 1:30 p.m. and plunged into the San Joaquin River moments later.
Fresno County sheriff’s spokesman Tony Botti said autopsies on the victims are scheduled for Wednesday morning. Pete Knudson, a spokesman for the NTSB, said a preliminary report on the crash would likely be completed in two weeks.
Huene was a resident of Sierra Sky Park, located along the San Joaquin River near Herndon and Brawley avenues, a subdivision created after World War II as a pioneering community of fly-in homes. He was involved in another plane crash in 2002 when he was forced to land in a cornfield southwest of Fresno when the engine on his plane lost power while on his way back to the sky park. The plane caught fire, but Huene and his passenger escaped unharmed. The passenger, David Deel, praised Huene’s skills after that incident.
Kathy Gregory, who lives at a home on the San Joaquin River Bluffs directly behind where Huene’s plane went down Monday, said she was a friend of Huene. She said she couldn’t believe the crash occurred.
“We heard the airplane take off,” she said. “Then silence. That’s not good – silence.”
“I liked Bill,” she said of Huene. Gregory said she recalled discussing the 2002 crash with Huene and remembered that he said he would not fly again after it occurred.
Gregory said she and her husband, like most who live in the sky park, were also pilots, although she did not fly anymore.
A man who also lives at the sky park was walking his dog near the crash site Tuesday. Not surprisingly, he also knew Huene as a neighbor and friend. He declined to identify himself to The Bee, but described the plane Huene was flying as a “top-notch” aircraft.
Knudson, the NTSB spokesman, described the Express S-90 as a “home-built” experimental aircraft. But that did not mean that there was anything wrong with the craft or its design, according to the neighbor, who described flying an experimental plane as something like having a high-performance automobile.
“One-third of the people out here have experimental planes,” he said.
Plane and Pilot magazine describes the Express S-90 as an “all composite, low-wing, fixed-gear monoplane that subscribes to the high-tech school of kit-built aircraft.” It says the plane can seat four with a top speed of 240 mph and travel 1,400 miles without refueling.
The neighbor said Monday’s crash was the first double fatal incident to take place at the sky park. He recalled another fatal crash, which he said occurred several decades ago, when a pilot took off in the fog and crashed into the river.
Several other crashes by planes taking off or landing at the airport have been reported in recent years, including a 2012 incident, in which an ultralight aircraft was forced to land in a field just west of the sky park. The pilot was not injured.
In 2002, pilot Alan Tolle survived a flight that began at the sky park and ended at Avenue 10 and Road 32 in Madera County. Although the left wing and engine were sheared off in the crash near a vineyard, Tolle suffered only a cut finger.