PALMDALE — Among the 18 people killed Wednesday night in the crash of a commuter plane in northern Minnesota was 11-year-old Tony Trujillo, a Palmdale resident whose love of hockey was taking him on a first-ever visit to his great-aunt's home.
Shortly after the plane was to land, Tony was to lace up skates and have his first practice with a hockey team. "He would have changed his clothes in the car if that's all there was time for," Tony's great-aunt, Eleanor Christensen, said Friday from her home in Buhl, Minn.
The Northwest Airlink plane, carrying 16 passengers and two crew members, was flying from Minneapolis to Hibbing, Minn., about 200 miles to the north, in fog and icy drizzle, typical December weather conditions in northern Minnesota. The British Aerospace Jetstream 31, a twin-engine turboprop, struck a 30-foot-high evergreen tree east of Hibbing and crashed into a huge mound of iron-ore waste.
Ice on the wings, tail and fuselage of the plane may have been a major factor in the crash, National Transportation Safety Board investigators said. Air traffic controllers received no distress signal.
Tony was one of at least three Californians aboard. Rachel Thacker, 47, of Santa Ana, was returning to Minnesota, her home state, to make plans for the care of her ill mother. Thacker was director of personnel at Investors Diversified Services in Los Angeles.
Theresa Hettinga, 59, of Modesto, was reportedly on her way to visit a brother-in-law in Ontario, Canada.
Christensen said her nephew had phoned her about six months ago, saying that he wanted to visit her so he could play ice hockey.
"He loves hockey, roller blades, street hockey," Christensen said. Although she had only occasionally seen Tony since he was a little boy, Christensen said the two had grown close in the past six months planning for the two-week visit.
"He was quite a clown, but a great student," said Christensen. Tony's parents, Dennis and Cindy Trujillo, have been staying with Christensen and her husband since they arrived in Minnesota Thursday. They were expected to return to Palmdale tonight.
Tony attended Desert Rose Elementary School in Palmdale. His brother Kevin, 9, and sister Lisa, 6, also attend the school.
Kevin was production manager at the school paper for which Tony served as editor-in-chief.
Desert Rose Principal Lon Herrera said Tony had attended the year-round school since kindergarten, describing him as a good student with an interest in sports. "He was a real nice kid."
The 1,120-student school observed a moment of silence Friday in Tony's honor.
A district counselor and a psychologist, he said, were available to students or teachers who wanted to talk about Tony's death.