SAN DIEGO — A U.S. Customs plane conducting a routine exercise crashed half a mile south of the U.S.-Mexico border near Calexico, killing the pilot and co-pilot, U.S. Customs officials reported Monday.
James D. Taylor, 41, and David Louie Crater, 33, both of San Diego, were flying their Cessna 441 Conquest twin-engine aircraft along the border to act as a reference point for radar detectors at random sites on the ground when the crash occurred Sunday night, said Mike Fleming, Customs spokesman for the Pacific region in Los Angeles.
Fleming said the cause of the crash is under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.
At 6:10 p.m. Sunday, Fleming said the plane was lost from customs radar. Not until half an hour later did officials begin to worry. Fleming said planes often disappear from radar in that area.
"This is a popular site for smuggling narcotics," he said. "You have valley areas and mountains on both sides, and radar can ricochet off of them. Planes can fly through the valley and stay at low elevations . . . where radar can't detect them."
A U.S. Customs helicopter spotted the crash site, 13 miles southwest of the Calexico airport, at 10:30 p.m.
Taylor, the pilot, joined the Customs Service in 1977. Crater joined in April. Fleming said all customs stations nationwide have been asked to fly their flags at half-staff through Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Kern County sheriff's deputies reported that a Bakersfield man was killed and a female companion critically injured Monday afternoon when their Cessna 152 light airplane crashed near Shafter, about 10 miles northwest of Bakersfield.
Deputies said the plane crashed after the engine apparently stalled while buzzing the area.
The dead pilot was identified as Jonathan Helm Karr, 21. The unidentified woman companion was reported in very critical condition at Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield.
In Arizona, authorities were able to identify the four people killed Sunday when their light plane crashed just short of the runway at the Grand Canyon Airport. The dead were identified as two Campbell, Calif., couples: Renato Ricci, 47, the pilot; his wife, Glenda Jewel, 43; Paul William Lasley, 46, and Goldie Ruth Lasley, 45.