Two men were killed late Saturday afternoon when their small, two-seater aircraft crashed at a makeshift airstrip in the Twin Oaks Valley area north of San Marcos, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department reported.
Identities of the victims, described as men in their middle 30s, were not released Saturday night, nor had the cause of the crash been determined.
A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman in Los Angeles said the plane was believed to be a single-engine Piper 11, perhaps more than 30 years old.
He said investigators from the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will arrive at the crash site today to begin their inquiry.
Nearby resident Don Deventure said he was alerted to the crash at about 4:30 p.m. by someone walking through the area "who saw a wing sticking up in the air, saw there were two bodies in the plane and high-tailed it down here to my place" on Homestead Drive.
Deventure said he drove a four-wheel-drive vehicle to the crash site and found the plane's engine still warm.
He said it appeared to him the tail-dragging, high-wing aircraft crashed while attempting to take off from the hardened dirt strip.
The strip is located near a water reservoir tank operated by the San Marcos County Water Authority in a hilly, inaccessible area about two miles north of Deer Springs Road and two miles west of Interstate 15. Deputies from the Sheriff's Department and the county coroner's office had to be airlifted to the site, a sheriff's spokeswoman said.
A large boulder at the end of the airstrip had been painted with a large red "X," indicating it had been designated by authorities as substandard and unsafe to use, Deventure said.
The small airplane crashed directly on that boulder, he said.
Both men, sitting one behind the other in the small cockpit, appeared to have died on impact, Deventure said.
"I have no doubt they were trying to take off. You could see where the tail was dragging and how he (the pilot) really tried to pull back on the throttle (because of the gouge in the airstrip). He hit the blessed 'X' on the boulder, about five feet off the ground, and the plane just disintegrated."
The plane came within about two feet of clearing the boulder, he estimated.