Man and Woman Killed in Julian Plane Crash

Crews used pilot's cell phone to track location

Two people were killed Wednesday night when their small, private plane crashed on its way to San Diego, according to authorities.

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department launched a search for the plane Wednesday after it failed to land in El Cajon as expected. It was due to land just after 6 p.m.

Deputies said that around 6:15 p.m., officials from Gillespie Tower reported that the airplane – described as a single-engine Mooney M20E, traveling from Palm Springs, Calif., to San Diego – had lost contact while flying over the Julian area in San Diego’s East County.

Deputies said the last known location from air traffic control had put the aircraft near the Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve, about four miles northeast of Julian.

After an extensive overnight search, crews discovered the plane wreckage around 1 a.m. in the Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve. The aircraft had crashed into a steep hillside about a half-mile from the top of Volcan Mountain.

Sheriff's officials said a man and a woman were killed in the crash. The names of the victims have not yet been released by officials. The San Diego County Medical Examiner is expected to recover the victims' bodies Thursday.

Wednesday's search was spearheaded by the Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team and the Civil Air Patrol. U.S. Border Patrol "Borstar" team members, San Diego Mountain Rescue and AERO Reserve members also aided in the efforts.

However, given the rugged, mountainous terrain, the search proved challenging.

The sheriff’s ASTREA helicopter attempted to assist by air but due to inclement weather, ASTREA had to cease their attempted search efforts.

Wind, rain and dense fog swept San Diego County Wednesday – the first weather of its kind this season. At night in Julian, visibility on the ground was less than 50 feet due to dense fog.

"It's even worse up on the mountain," Sgt. Tom Poulin, with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, said of the rough conditions. "It's real foggy up there. There was some sleet going on a little earlier."

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, the NTSB has not gotten involved with the investigation into the crash just yet.

On Thursday, NBC 7 went to the home of the man to whom the plane is registered. A neighbor said the man and his girlfriend flew to Palm Springs often.

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