The bodies of two victims killed in a plane crash in Julian were pulled from the wreckage Thursday afternoon after an extensive, day-long recovery mission by officials.
The man and woman, who have yet to be named by authorities, were killed Wednesday night when their small, private plane crashed into a steep hillside about a half-mile from the top of Volcan Mountain.
San Diego County Sheriff’s Department officials said the plane – a single-engine Mooney M20E – was en route from Palm Springs to San Diego’s Gillespie Field when it went off the radar and fatally crashed.
The last known location from air traffic control put the aircraft near the Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve, approximately 4 miles northeast of Julian -- in extremely rugged, treacherous terrain.
After an overnight search led by many officials from multiple agencies, search crews discovered the plane wreckage and the two victims in the area at around 1 a.m.
The search and recovery process proved quite difficult.
With poor accessibility, even highly-trained search and recovery teams had a tough time getting to the site of the crash. The wreckage could only be reached by a 45-minute, uphill hike into challenging, uneven land filled with brush.
Jan Caldwell with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department said the recovery mission was a very tough, precise operation.
Finally, just before 4 p.m. on Thursday, the bodies of the victims were recovered.
The San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office will now conduct autopsies and confirm the identity of the victims. The aircraft is registered to San Diego resident Andrew Thulin, who is believed to have been aboard the plane with his girlfriend.
Residents in the Volcan Mountain area were saddened to hear about the fatal crash. One resident, Gita Hudson, said this isn’t the first time she’s seen an aircraft go down in the area.
“It happens quite often. As long as I’ve lived here, 32 years, I think this has happened four times,” said Hudson.
Prior to Wednesday’s crash, the ill-fated airplane was due to land in San Diego at 6:15 p.m. When the aircraft became overdue, officials from Gillespie Field contacted deputies, and the search for the plane began.
Ultimately, search crews used a signal from the pilot’s cell phone to get a ping and track the plane's location. There, they discovered the wreckage and victim's bodies.
Officials are now looking into the cause of the deadly crash. The Federal Aviation Administration will handle the investigation. However, due to the government shutdown, both the FAA and NTSB have not gotten involved with the investigation into the crash just yet, Caldwell said.