Plane crash claims Ojai couple
by Lenny Roberts
The bodies of Charles and Barbara Curtis were found Friday
in the wreckage of their single-engine Grumman Tiger AA-5B that
had sometime earlier slammed into the side of fog-shrouded South
Mountain near the Santa Paula Airport. The cause of the crash
remains under investigation.
The wreckage was reportedly spotted by an employee of Ojai Oil
Co. at about 10:15 a.m., who called authorities after believing
that the four-seater airplane was not there the day before. The
impact had detached both wings of the aircraft, but the fuselage
and tail section remained mostly intact.
Charles Curtis, 74, was the former general manager of the Ventura
River County Water District and 13-year veteran of the agency
that supplies water to parts of the unincorporated areas of the
Ojai Valley, including Casitas Springs and a portion of Oak View.
In February, he was presented the Ventura County Special Districts
Association's General Manager of the Year award.
Matt Bryant, who recently was named VCRWD general manager, remembered
Curtis as a dedicated predecessor.
"Chuck was one of the greatest, and a stickler for detail,
I can tell you that," Bryant said. "He was a very smart
and brilliant man who was self-taught about the water industry,
and had been a pilot for more than 30 years."
A year after his retirement in December 2000, Curtis was appointed
as a VCRWD board member.
"Once he retired, he did fly quite a bit. He'd always come
in and joke about where he and Barbara would fly to have lunch,"
Bryant recalled. "He came in the office on Thursday and
talked about leaving Friday for Minden, Nevada to visit friends."
Eyewitnesses reported seeing the Curtises at the Santa Paula
Airport Friday morning where the weather at the time was overcast,
lending credence to the theory that Curtis may not have been
able to see South Mountain after takeoff due to poor visibility.
Doug Dullenkopf, president of Screaming Eagles Aircraft Sales,
remembers seeing Curtis' plane on the taxiway between 9:30 and
10 a.m., and did not recall anyone taking off prior to that.
He said the weather at the time was overcast with a 500-foot
"I definitely saw the plane on the taxiway, and delayed
my flight out because of the ceiling," Dullenkopf said,
adding that he took off about an hour after that. Even though
he described the ceiling as good when he departed the runway,
he flew for about an hour, remaining in the airport's traffic
"Mrs. Curtis always sat in the car and liked to read while
he liked to talk airplanes," Dullenkopf said. "I knew
him to be a very nice likable and intelligent person. It kind
of surprised me that he did what he did."
Rowena Mason, president of the Santa Paula Airport, confirmed
seeing Curtis' plane take off, but did not recall who was at
the controls. At the time the plane departed, Mason said there
was some blue sky visible through the cloud cover, and she estimated
that the ceiling had lifted to 1,000 feet.
"I could not see the top of the mountain where they impacted,
but it was starting to clear," Mason said, adding that she
did not see anyone take off prior to Curtis, but heard that someone
did an hour earlier.
An instrument flight rules or IFR clearance is required to take
off with a low ceiling, but since the airport has no control
tower, the determination of safety based on weather conditions
is left to the pilot in command. And a filed flight plan, although
mandatory before departure in IFR conditions, is urged by the
FAA for any long-range flight.
Jerry Snyder of the Federal Aviation Administration's Western-Pacific
Region office said Monday that "As far as we can tell, there
was no flight plan filed."
FAA investigators were still at the crash site gathering information
Monday, and Snyder confirmed that Curtis was instrument-rated,
meaning that he had been trained to and could legally fly in
areas with limited visibility, and that he last had a medical
examination required for pilot recerification in February.
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
Back to the news