San Diego

Father of Four Identified as Second Clairemont Plane Crash Victim

A veterinarian and father of four was identified Wednesday as the second victim killed when a small plane crash-landed into the backyard of a Clairemont home, igniting both the plane and home in flames.

Dr. Mike Zareski was a well-known veterinarian at the Western Veterinary Group in Torrance. He and his wife had four children, all under the age of seven.

Zareski’s wife posted a statement on her husband’s business facebook page Wednesday expressing her grief.

“I am so terribly saddened to share with you that my husband, Dr. Mike Zareski, was involved in an accident and did not survive,” the post read. “Our WVG staff and families know that Mike touched a tremendous number of people with his overwhelming compassion, generosity and kindness. His legacy will live on in our four beautiful children and in Western Veterinary Group.”

On Saturday, Zareski and three others were aboard a six-seat single-engine 1995 Beechcraft Bonanza headed for Los Angeles that departed from Montgomery-Gibbs Executive Airport in San Diego at approximately 4:30 p.m., San Diego Fire-Rescue Department said.

Four minutes after takeoff, the aircraft reported engine failure. The pilot made an attempt to land in an open area of a nearby schoolyard, however the plane tore through the school's fence and skidded into the yard of a nearby home.

The home and the plane quickly became engulfed in flames.

The crash killed Zareski and Robert Sterling.

Sterling’s wife Dawn and the plane's pilot, who has not been identified, survived the crash.

One of Zareski's veterinary clients, Valerie Smith-Griffin, called the doctor's death "a tremendous loss."

"He put you at ease immediately," Smith-Griffin said. "He was the real deal." 

Zareski and the Stellings were in San Diego for a veterinary convention. Dawn Stelling owns an animal hospital in Southhampton, New York, according to the family's acquaintance Gil Flanagan.

She returned to home, where she lives with her three children, earlier this week to be with family. 

The plane was owned by Altitude Aviation Inc. in Hermosa Beach, California. A spokesperson for the company responded to NBC 7’s request for comment stating, “The NTSB and FAA are working on the investigation.”

Contact Us