published Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Pilot, plane recovered from San Francisco Bay

This image provided by KTVU-TV shows search efforts revealing part of a plane Wednesday, April 30, 2014, in the San Francisco Bay in San Francisco.
This image provided by KTVU-TV shows search efforts revealing part of a plane Wednesday, April 30, 2014, in the San Francisco Bay in San Francisco.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

RICHMOND, Calif. — Crews recovered the body of a pilot along with his plane's fuselage Wednesday, days after the aircraft crashed into San Francisco Bay following a collision with another small plane that managed to land safely.

A marine salvage company retrieved the single-engine plane in an operation that was shown live by at least two news outlets. The body of the pilot could be seen in the wreckage of the Cessna 210, which plunged into the water on Sunday.

Contra Costa County Sheriff's spokesman Jimmy Lee confirmed that the body was "clearly visible," and he asked members of the media not to show images of the victim, whose name has not been released.

The Contra Costa County coroner's office, which took custody of the remains at about 6:15 p.m., will identify the remains, notify the next of kin and determine the exact cause of death.

National Transportation Safety Board lead investigator Howard Plagens said the midair collision occurred when the pilot of a vintage Hawker Sea Fury TMK 20 pulled up to the left side of his travelling companion flying the Cessna. The Sea Fury's pilot said he saw the Cessna going down but did not see it crash. The surviving pilot immediately focused on trying to fly his own plane to land safely, Plagens said.

"Obviously, he's still shaken up," added Plagens, who interviewed the surviving pilot twice. The Hawker suffered tail damage.

Plagens said he hopes to have a preliminary report about the crash by Friday.

Using an underwater camera, the San Francisco Police Department found the fuselage of the Cessna 210 about 4 p.m. Tuesday under 13 feet of water about 1 1/2 miles off the Richmond shoreline east of San Francisco. Diving crews followed up about 5:30 p.m. to confirm the find.

It was not immediately clear why the planes were flying so close together during the passing maneuver.

John Cox, CEO of the consulting firm Safety Operating Systems and a pilot with 44 years of experience, said the distance that pilots should maintain from nearby planes depends on whether the planes are flying together in formation.

"If they are not flying in formation, basically several hundred feet," Cox told The Associated Press. If they are flying in formation, that distance may shrink to as little as 30 or 40 feet, he said.

The overtaking plane -- in this case, the Sea Fury -- is responsible for maintaining separation, but it's possible that the surviving pilot didn't see how close he was to the Cessna, Cox said.

The collision occurred late Sunday afternoon near the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. Witnesses at Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor said the Cessna spiraled out of control and crashed into the choppy water. Debris was found in the bay after the collision.

The Sea Fury's pilot landed at Eagle's Nest Airport in the small city of Ione in Amador County, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said. The Sea Fury's occupants -- a husband and wife -- weren't hurt.

Both planes had departed from Eagle's Nest Airport to participate in the Pacific Coast Dream Machines, an annual festival at Half Moon Bay Airport that features a variety of planes, motorcycles and cars. Both planes left Half Moon Bay, about 20 miles south of San Francisco, and were on their return flight.

FAA records indicate the Sea Fury, a vintage British fighter plane, is registered to Sanders Aeronautics Inc. in Ione. A man who answered the telephone at the company's listed number declined to comment.

Sanders Aeronautics' website said the family-run company specializes in aircraft restoration, and brothers Dennis and Brian Sanders are avid air racers.

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