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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA / A news summary | The Regional

Plane Sounded Normal Till Crash, Witness Says

January 21, 1999

CORONA — The rugged hillside in Chino Hills was thick with fog and visibility was poor in the early morning hours when the private airplane carrying four Corona firefighters to a skiing vacation crashed, a witness and a meteorologist said Wednesday.

Ed Fortelny said he heard the Beechcraft Bonanza circle over his house several times early Tuesday, but could not see the plane because of darkness and fog. There was no hint of trouble from the sound of the engine, he said.

Fortelny, who was on the back patio drinking coffee before going to work, said the plane circled four or five times before he saw "a bright, orange glow" through the fog about a mile away.

"Prior to the crash, I listened for the sputtering of the engine, but there was never a variation in the sound," Fortelny said. "It was just the normal sound of an airplane engine."

Killed were the pilot, Michael A. Chantry, 36, of San Clemente; Donald Butts, 28, of Irvine; John Y. Jefferies III, 25, of Santa Ana, and Daniel Alleman, 27, of Perris.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators examined the wreckage Wednesday for clues to the cause of the crash. NTSB officials did not return calls for comment Wednesday.

Robert Balfour, meteorologist at the National Weather Service office San Diego, said fog was dense in some of the hilly areas of the Inland Empire. Authorities said the crash occurred at an elevation of 1,140 feet, near Chino Hills State Park, at about 4:55 a.m.

Weather Service records show that the fog and clouds began at about 1,000 feet and were especially thick in the hills.

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