A 66-year-old pilot who was killed when his plane crashed at an airport near Lake Tahoe was a northern California emergency room doctor who was leaving to provide medical care at a needy village in Mexico, according to the volunteer group that coordinated the trip.
Dr. James Richard Ungar of Yreka, Calif., had just told his two passengers to leave the single-engine plane so he could test its airworthiness when the Piper Comanche hit a hangar at the Truckee-Tahoe Airport in Truckee just after takeoff Thursday morning.
Nevada County coroner’s officials say he died on impact.
“Our entire organization shares with family and friends the devastation over this horrible fatal accident,” said dentist Adrian Fenderson, spokesman for Los Medicos Voladores, which is Spanish for The Flying Doctors. “We are at the same time relieved that Dr. Ungar’s two passengers are alive because of his selfless concern for their safety.”
Ungar, who had just joined the volunteer group, was headed to Bahia Tortugas in Baja California, Mexico, for a weekend trip with his friends, emergency room nurse Russ Mann and EMT/translator Wayne McClelland.
Fenderson said the trio was planning to join three other airborne teams to provide medical and dental care for hundreds of people at a clinic the doctors group had established.
Ungar attempted to take off Thursday morning but aborted the mission and ordered the passengers out because he was concerned there wasn’t sufficient lift, Fenderson said. On his second try, alone, the plane went down.
Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.
Ungar was an emergency room doctor and medical director at Fairchild Medical Center in Yreka, a city not far from the Oregon border, and had been flying planes since his youth.