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Victims of Plane Crash Near Santa Paula Identified as Ojai Retirees

Investigation: Former water district manager and his wife were killed soon after takeoff Friday.


Two people killed when their small airplane crashed shortly after takeoff from Santa Paula Airport were identified Saturday as Ojai retirees Charles and Barbara Curtis.

Both died from injuries sustained in the crash, said James Baroni, a senior deputy coroner's investigator.

According to officials and friends, the couple were planning to fly their four-seat Grumman Tiger to Minden, Nev., for a two-day vacation.

An aircraft salesman at the airport reported seeing the couple taxiing on the runway between 9:30 and 10 a.m. Friday.

By 11:30 a.m., an oil company worker had spotted wreckage of the plane about five miles south of the airport on a rugged slope below South Mountain.

At the time of the crash, people working near the airport reported overcast skies, a low cloud ceiling and fog.

The cause of the crash remained under investigation Saturday by National Transportation Safety Board officials. Investigators are looking into several possibilities, including weather conditions and pilot error.

Baroni said the autopsy of Charles Curtis, 74, showed no indication he suffered a sudden medical emergency, such as a heart attack or stroke.

The crash investigation is expected to take several weeks, officials said.

News of the deaths stunned the couple's friends and colleagues.

Charles Curtis had retired from the Navy after a military career that began near the end of World War II. He served on the Ventura County River Water District Board, along with his brother, John Curtis, who is board president.

Before retiring in December 2000, Curtis was the water district's general manager for 13 years. He joined the five-member board in August to fill a vacancy created by the death of another member.

"He was well-loved. We are a small organization, just four people, and we all looked to him kind of like a dad. This is just devastating," said Janet Schaefer, who runs the district's small office on Old Baldwin Road.

Barbara Curtis, 68, worked two days a week as a supervisor at the Second Helping Thrift Store in Ojai, part of the Help of Ojai organization that assists senior citizens.

Jessica Hill, an activities director for Help of Ojai, said she saw the couple Friday morning.

"I live down the street and I was driving to work and they drove past me," Hill said. "She's a great volunteer and this is going to be a huge shock to the people who work with her."

Friends said the couple had been married more than 20 years and each had children from a previous marriage.

Clausen Funeral Home in Ojai is handling the arrangements.

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