Four victims of an air ambulance crash near San Diego, California, on Monday 27 December have been identified by public authorities, friends and colleagues. All four people were staff of air ambulance operator Aeromedevac.
The two pilots were identified by San Diego County’s Medical Examiners’ Office as Douglas James Grande, aged 42, and Julian Jorge Bugaj, aged 67. Friends and colleagues have meanwhile identified nurses Tina Ward and Laurie Gentz as the two passengers.
Flight nurse Ward was confirmed as one of the passengers in an Instagram post on Tuesday by the Oceanside Firefighters Association Local 3736 as the wife of recently retired Oceanside Deputy Fire Chief Joe Ward. The organization stated that: “We are shocked and saddened by this devastating news and are keeping you all in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”
Nurse Gentz was identified in a Facebook post by the International Association of EMTs and Paramedics as the president of one of its local chapters. The association said that: “President Gentz will be greatly missed by all who knew her and all who benefit from her selfless contributions to organized labor in the Greater San Diego area.”
In a statement posted by Aeromedevac on their website, the organization said that: “It is with great sadness that we must share the devastating loss of our colleagues at Aeromedevac Air Ambulance on December 27, 2021. The loss of our friends has left us an indescribable void. To both us and their families they are unsung heroes, dedicating their lives to caring for others in need throughout our community. Our priority now is to support the well-being of the families of all our crew members.
“We are a close-knit air ambulance program that is united by our missions to care for our patients. Our team’s commitment to helping others has always been inspiring. We are honored and blessed to have worked with the crew members that we have lost, and we extend our heartfelt condolences to their families.”
Poor weather conditions may have caused the crash
The Aeromedevac Learjet 35 reportedly fell from the sky at approximately 19.00 on 27 December in the city of El Cajon, approximately 27km east of San Diego, where it was seen exploding on impact.
The aircraft had been returning to Aeromedevac’s base at Gillespie Field in northern El Cajon after responding to a medical emergency earlier that day.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are currently investigating the incident. A preliminary report is expected to be released by the NTSB in the coming weeks.
Reports by local news outlets have suggested that the aircraft may have been stricken by poor weather conditions, which included fog and rain. According to a statement by an NTSB spokesperson, the Learjet had initially been on an instrument approach to Gillespie Field’s runway 17, but ‘as the airplane neared the airport environment, the pilot requested a change to a visual approach to runway 27R.’
According to commercial pilot and flight instructor Robbert Katz, in an interview with local broadcaster CBS8: “It’s possible that this pilot found himself back in the clouds, very low to the ground, in a steep turn and became instantly disoriented.”
In audio recorded shortly before the crash, one of the pilots can be heard asking air-traffic control workers to turn up the brightness of the airport’s runway lights, before being informed that the lights were already at 100 per cent brightness.