The pilot who died when his twin-engine Cessna C340 crashed into a Santee neighborhood Monday was Dr. Sugata Das, a Yuma Regional Medical Center cardiologist for more than 15 years.
“We’re still reeling through this,” said Dr. Bharat Magu, the hospital’s chief medical officer. “It’s almost a nightmare right now. It doesn't seem real.”
Magu told NBC 7 that he’s in shock over the news of Das’ death because, he said, Das had taken the same flight path from Yuma International Airport to San Diego hundreds of times.
Magu said Das was “the last person you would expect to not know — in an emergency — what to do.”
Magu said Das’ passion for flying was so strong it inspired Magu to get his pilot’s license too.
“He was almost a subject-matter expert for most of us in the pilot community here in Yuma,” Magu said. “He would fly from San Diego to Yuma back and forth for work.”
Das appeared to be a skilled aviator, earning a commercial pilot certificate in 2014 for instrument rating flight, meaning he was able to fly while relying solely on plane instruments, according to FAA records.
Das even had his own aviation company, to which the Cessna that crashed Monday and another plane are registered.
An online bio for The Power of Love Foundation, a nonprofit organization he's listed as a director of, states that a “fortuitous incident" in 2010 sparked Das' interest in aviation/
Das, the father of two boys, attended flight school at Fly San Diego. His testimonial on the flight school’s website said his experience with his instructor also “spurred the flying bug” in one of his sons.
In a statement Tuesday on behalf of Yuma Regional Medical Center, Magu said his “community has lost an exceptional physician, colleague and friend, a man who dedicated his life and career to caring for patients,” adding that Das was a “highly disciplined physician who thrived on each opportunity to improve care for heart patients.”
Yuma Regional Medical Center told NBC 7 Das joined its medical staff in 2005, after completing his extensive training as an interventional cardiologist.
After completing medical school in India, he came to the United States to pursue his internal medicine residency at Oakwood Hospital in Dearborn, Michigan, going on to complete his cardiology fellowship at Providence Hospital, in Southfield, Michigan, and his interventional cardiology fellowship at the Arizona Heart Institute in Phoenix.
Das was known for his “strong work ethic and compassionate manner with patients and staff,” Magu said. “He was probably the most energetic physician in the medical staff. He had a very vivacious personality. It's an enormous loss for the community, even in San Diego.”
Das’ wife, Sujata, declined to speak with NBC 7 at the family’s home in the Fairbanks Ranch neighborhood of San Diego on Tuesday, but back in Yuma, Das' colleagues said they were struggling for answers.
“I'm sure it will be a long investigation.…," Magu said. "We're all eager to know what exactly happened. It can happen to anyone … even very experienced people…. There are things which are beyond individual's control.”
The National Transportation Safety Board said that, among the factors being studied in its investigation, are the plane’s maintenance and pilot’s medical records, adding that the investigation could take up to two years to complete, though a preliminary report on the investigators' findings is expected to publish Oct. 26 -- 15 days after the crash.