Perris, CA Skydiving Airplane Crash, Apr 1992


Perris, Calif. (AP) -- A plane loaded with skydivers crashed during takeoff Wednesday, killing 16 people and badly injuring six, authorities said.
The twin-engine De Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otter plunged into a grassy area at the end of a runway at the rural Perris Valley Airport, shearing off the plane's nose and oth wings. It did not explode or catch fire.
Fifteen people were dead at the scene and another died at a hospital, said fire Capt. Travis Witten. Six survivors were hospitalized with injuries ranging from serious to critical.
The plane, operated by Perris Valley Skydiving, had just taken off from the airfield, about 60 miles southeast of Los Angeles, and was about 30 to 40 feet in the air and 200 yards off the runway when a witness saw it was in trouble, said Witten.
"A witness said he heard him feathering an engine, then he lost sight of the plane and it crashed," Witten said. Feathering an engine changes the angle or pitch of propeller blades, essentially putting the engine in neutral. That witness was the owner of the flying service but Travis didn't have his name.
Twenty-two people, including two crew members, were aboard the plane, Witten said. Some victims were members of a local skydiving tam and another team from the Netherlands, Witten said.
But Fred Parle, 33, owner of Ultralight Safaris at the airport, said he knew everyone aboard the plane and that they were the airfield's regular weekday skydivers.
Parle was inside his business when he heard the plane in trouble.
"It sounded like it took off normal, then it sounded like the engine quit, or it pitched in reverse," Parle said. Adjusting the propeller blades pitch adjusts them for greater or lesser thrust or to reverse thrust for braking during landings.
Parle rushed out and saw the plane down off the main runway.
"People inside were yelling. I thought it was gonna blow. Gas was dripping and the engine was smoking," he said.
Bystanders helped one or two stumbling survivors get out, he said.
Parle said a friend told him the plane appeared to take off at a high angle, one engine coughed, and the right wing dropped sharply and hit the ground. The plane bounced upright, then nosed into the ground, he said.
At the airport, bodies of the dead lay covered by a single white tarp about 20 feet from the fuselage.
The crash was reported at 11:15 a.m. Local agencies and March Air Force Base sent firefighters and ambulances. A crowd of spectators standing among parked ultralight aircraft watched the rescue and recovery of bodies.
The Twin Otter routinely flew out of the airport, a center for skydiving in rural Riverside County, said Joanne Evans, a fire dispatch center spokeswoman.
Names of the victims were not released, however the pilot was named at ROWLAND GUILFORD, 44.
The Twin Otter is a propeller driven Canadian aircraft designed for carrying passengers and cargo. It normally carries up to 22 people. It has a wingspan of 65 feet and is just less than 52 feet long.
NTSB investigators were going to the scene.

Daily Herald Chicago Illinois 1992-04-23