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Divers Find Downed Plane Off O.C., Recover Bodies of Pilot and 3 Others

November 23, 2005|Mai Tran | Times Staff Writer

Though hampered by swift currents and a troublesome anchor line, deep-sea divers Tuesday found four bodies inside the small plane that crashed over the weekend off Dana Point, authorities said.

The search team, assisted by a robot, reached the wreckage of the Cessna 210 about 3 p.m. after currents swept one diver hundreds of yards from the crash site and another became tangled in an anchor line.

Both had to be placed in a decompression chamber, delaying the recovery effort for several hours.

Orange County sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino said divers finally located the single-engine plane in 218 feet of water. It was upside-down. The pilot and one passenger were still in the front seats, and the other two passengers were in the back of the cabin.

Relatives have identified one of the passengers as race-truck driver Jason Baldwin, 35, of Laguna Beach, the son of developer James Baldwin.

The pilot was Daniel Neuman, 51, of Foothill Ranch, who regularly flew members of the Baldwin family and their friends to racing events.

Family members identified the other passengers as Rick Olauson, 36, of Long Beach, and Jeffrey TenEyck, 35, of Jackson Hole, Wyo. Both are longtime friends of Jason Baldwin.

As the divers worked, a priest and about 50 relatives of the crash victims waited all day on a boat nearby. They shared stories about the men, held hands and prayed.

"Today, we spent a life-changing day together," said Kelley Renezeder, the sister of Jason Baldwin. "It was amazing. Our families will forever have this bond."

During the long wait, a school of dolphins swam by the port side of the relatives' boat.

"It was a touching moment, a final farewell," said Renezeder, who held a rose.

"It brought our families peace knowing the men loved the water."

The aircraft, owned by the Baldwin Co., was returning from an off-road vehicle competition in Baja California when it crashed shortly after 2 p.m. Saturday about three miles offshore. It took off from San Felipe, Mexico, and was headed to John Wayne Airport.

Amormino said the search was halted for two hours after a diver became entangled in an anchor line. Swift currents later pushed a second diver about 200 yards from the wreckage.

A third diver, he said, was able to reach the plane.

At 6:30 p.m., a team of 10 divers removed the bodies from the aircraft after a salvage barge lifted it to a depth of 30 feet. The pilot and one of the passengers had to be cut from their seat belts.

The team of three commercial divers and seven from the Orange County Harbor Patrol was in the water about 20 minutes.

Sheriff's Lt. Erin Giudice said the aircraft was pulled up with cables and arrived at the surface largely intact. The wreckage was hauled to Dana Point and will be transported to Lancaster for analysis by National Transportation Safety Board investigators.

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