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Sunday, October 17, 2010

ENSENADA - U.S. medical volunteers killed in Baja plane crash


By Sandra Dibble and Pauline Repard Originally published October 16, 2010 at 6:10 p.m., updated October 16, 2010 at 10:40 p.m. (Curiosity of Rosarito Town Crier)

BAJA CALIFORNIA - Four United States citizens on a volunteer medical mission in Baja California are dead following a plane crash, authorities said Saturday. The victims were members of the Flying Samaritans heading to the Los Pinos ranch in San Quintin.

The accident occurred Friday afternoon in an unpopulated area north of the community of Santo Tomas shortly after the plane, a single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza Model A36, built in 1973, took off from the El Cipres military air base in Ensenada, said Alfredo Escobedo, Baja California's Civil Protection chief.

It was heading to the San Quintin area along with another small plane also carrying volunteers. But when the two pilots lost radio contact shortly after takeoff, the other plane returned to Ensenada.

Escobedo said the region had poor flying conditions at the time of the crash, but it was unclear what caused the plane to go down 12 nautical miles south of the El Cipres air base.

Victor Jones, president of the Flying Samaritans, said Saturday night that the pilot reported to the airport when he had flown about 10 miles south, as was customary, but shortly afterward, radio contact was lost.

An extensive air, ground and water search was mounted and the plane's wreckage was found Saturday afternoon in rough terrain.

Escobedo said the crash site could not be reached by ground. Authorities flew in with three helicopters to recover the four bodies.

The victims have been identified as Roger Lyon, an attorney from Cayucos, California who was the plane's registered owner; Graciela Sarmiento, a physician from Arroyo Grande, California; Andrew Phiel, a paramedic from Linden, and James Thornton , a surgeon from San Luis Obispo. Escobedo said they were believed to be heading to Rancho Los Pinos in San Quintin.

The Flying Samaritans is an all-volunteer organization that regularly transports medical personnel and associated support people to clinics in Baja California, where they provide free medical services and supplies to those who would not otherwise have access to those services, Jones said. sandra.dibble@uniontrib.com · (619) 823-0983