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O.C. Couple Feared Dead in Sierra Plane Crash

Four died when the aircraft went down Monday near Bishop. Owners helped fly doctors and medical supplies to Mexico.

May 29, 2003|Zeke Minaya | Times Staff Writer

After rescuers pulled the remains of four people from the wreckage of a small aircraft in the rugged eastern Sierra Nevada on Wednesday, friends said they feared the Mission Viejo couple who own the plane are among the dead.

Dave Buck, Inyo County's chief deputy coroner, said the bodies of two men and two women were pulled from the debris, but their names won't be released until relatives are notified.

Federal Aviation Administration officials, however, said the Rockwell International 114 was owned by Steven Meissel, president of Vysym Corp., an Irvine software company. Neither Meissel nor his wife, Nancy, could be reached, and friends and neighbors said they feared the worst.

Yong Yoon, a next-door neighbor of the couple, said a representative of their company asked him Tuesday, without elaborating, to keep an eye on their home.

"I was really surprised when I got called," Yoon said. "I would never think that such a thing would happen to them."

The Meissels were members of the Orange County chapter of the Flying Samaritans, a nonprofit group that flies doctors and medical supplies to communities in Baja California, said chapter President Bob Schumacher.

Schumacher said he has been unable to determine whether the couple were flying their plane when it crashed. But he said it would be a great loss if they were killed.

"They were Samaritans at their heart and felt it was their mission to help support and offer health-care services to those who could not afford it," Schumacher said. "They donated their plane, their time and quite a bit of funding."

The downed plane's pilot did not file a flight plan -- which was not required for the trip -- but aviation officials believe the flight was headed to John Wayne Airport from Lake Tahoe when it crashed sometime Monday.

Civil Air Patrol searchers were unable to begin the search till Tuesday, when they found the fixed-wing, single-engine plane 16 miles southwest of Bishop at an elevation of 13,000 feet.

The National Transportation Safety Board has opened an investigation and hopes to have a preliminary report by early next week, an agency spokesman said.

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