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2 families among 14 killed in Montana plane crash

Two couples and their children, all relatives of a Redlands dentist, are among the dead. The plane had more passengers than it was designed to carry. Eye witnesses express their shock, sorrow.

March 24, 2009|Kim Murphy, and Maura Dolan and David Kelly

BUTTE, MONT., ST. HELENA, CALIF., AND REDLANDS — The plane that suddenly nose-dived into a cemetery in Montana this weekend killed three young California families bound for a ski vacation, including two sisters, their husbands and their five children.

Federal investigators, sifting through the charred wreckage Monday, warned that the cause may not be known for many months, but were looking into whether the plane was carrying too much weight or was disabled by icing or mechanical problems.

The pilot and 13 passengers, including seven children under the age of 10, died when the plane slammed into the ground in a fiery crash as it was approaching the Butte airport. The private plane, which began its journey in Southern California with a veteran San Bernardino pilot at the controls, had only 10 seats, said Mark Rosenker, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the crash. But Rosenker stressed that it would be wrong to assume it was overloaded without knowing the weights of the passengers, especially the young children.

"I don't want to have everybody jump to conclusions," he said. "We are going to be looking at each and every one of the factors. . . . This will be a long and tedious investigation."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, March 25, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Plane crash: An article in Tuesday's Section A about three California families killed in a plane crash in Montana misspelled the first name of Jacobson family spokeswoman JoAline Olson as JaAline.

Among the victims were the sisters -- Vanessa Pullen, 37, a pediatrician, and her husband, Mike, 39, a dentist, and Amy Jacobson, 35, a dental hygienist, and her husband, Erin, 37, an ophthalmologist.

The women were daughters of Irving M. "Bud" Feldkamp III, a prominent Redlands dentist who is president of the leasing company that owned the plane. Feldkamp had traveled ahead to Montana to meet family members for the vacation at the exclusive Yellowstone Club resort near Bozeman.

Feldkamp, his wife and other family members visited the crash site Monday and spent about 45 minutes there. He told the Associated Press that he learned of the crash in a call from a nephew.

"He saw it on CNN. He said, 'Nobody survived.' And we knew it was our plane," Feldkamp said. "We were going on a vacation with all the grandkids. They were all excited about skiing."

The Jacobsons had three children: Taylor, 4, Ava, 3, and Jude, 2.

The Pullens, who lived in Galt, south of Sacramento, had two: Sydney, 9, and Christopher, 7.

Also at the crash scene Monday was Bob Ching, who was to have hosted the Feldkamps at his home in the resort. Ching's son, Brent, 37, a dentist, his son's wife, Kristen, 31, and their two children, Hailey, 5, and Caleb, 3, were also killed in the crash. The family was from Durham, south of Chico.

Ching, reached Monday, said neither he nor Feldkamp wanted to comment.

Communities mourn

All of the adult passengers killed were alumni of San Bernardino County's Loma Linda University, where they attended the medical, dentistry or nursing schools. The Jacobsons and Pullens still have relatives working at the Loma Linda Medical Center, operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a spokesman said.

"It's really a loss for the Loma Linda family even if we didn't know them personally," said Richard Weismeyer, director of university relations. "We are all family. Loma Linda is a small school with about 35,000 living alumni. We all belong to the same faith." Weismeyer said all the passengers were members of the church.

News of the deaths also rocked the small Northern California town of St. Helena, where the Jacobsons lived and tended to patients. Erin Jacobson worked at St. Helena Hospital, where his father is a cardiac surgeon.

In the hall near the front lobby of the hospital, a bulletin board had been set up for patients and staff to write notes to the family. Below the board were a pot of blue hydrangeas and a stuffed dog with a card around its neck saying, "Today you'll play in heaven."

Erin Jacobson, who moved from Loma Linda with his wife in 2004, was known for his optimism, said JaAline Olson, a family spokeswoman and former chief executive of the hospital.

"I would guess Erin never had a bad day," she said. He was "interested in what was going on, what everyone else was doing, open to new ideas and cared deeply for his patients," she said, adding that he was a talented surgeon. He had done medical mission work in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Maureen Marks, 54, who works in case management, said the elder Jacobson, who was at the hospital Monday, was very close to his son. He canceled his surgeries but "mentally he had to" be at work, Marks said. "I think he's numb, and as the day has gone by he looks number and number -- a little more distant," she said.

A neighbor jogging near the Jacobsons' home broke into tears, describing them as "a wonderful family."

"Erin grew up here and came back to start his practice near his dad's," said the woman, who asked not to be named.

"The whole community is just crushed," she said. "We're all praying for the family."

Another neighbor, Lola Benson, said the children often played on a jungle gym and a swing set with a slide.

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