Monday, June 17, 2019

Piper PA-11 Cub Special, N209H: Fatal accident occurred June 16, 2019 in Copperopolis, Calaveras County, California

The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entity:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Sacramento, California

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

Location: Copperopolis, CA
Accident Number: WPR19FA173
Date & Time: 06/16/2019, 1145 PDT
Registration: N209H
Aircraft: Piper PA-11
Injuries: 1 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal 

On June 16, 2019, about 1145 Pacific daylight time, a Piper PA-11 airplane, N209H, was destroyed when it impacted the water of Lake Tulloch, near Copperopolis, California. The private pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was registered to and operated by the pilot under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed. The cross-country flight originated from Columbia Airport (O22), Columbia, California, at an unknown time, with an intended destination of Modesto, California.

Witnesses located on Lake Tulloch observed the accident airplane collide with power lines located over the northeastern channel of the lake. They reported that the airplane was at a low altitude on a southerly heading when it collided with the power lines and subsequently descended into the water in a nose low attitude.

Local law enforcement officials located the airplane wreckage submerged in 119 ft of water near the power lines.

The wreckage was recovered on June 18 and transported to a secure location for further examination. 

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Piper
Registration: N209H
Model/Series: PA-11
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: No
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None 

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: KO22, 2120 ft msl
Observation Time: 1855 UTC
Distance from Accident Site: 11 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 29°C / 12°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: Light and Variable / , Variable
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility:  10 Miles
Altimeter Setting: 29.88 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Departure Point: Columbia, CA (O22)
Destination: Modesto, CA (KMOD)

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 37.899444, -120.586389

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board investigation may contact them by email, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email

Sonar image shows the Piper PA-11 Cub Special 110 feet below the surface of Lake Tulloch before it was recovered by divers using airbags and a barge  on June 18th.

The family of the Modesto-area pilot who crashed into Lake Tulloch after his single-engine airplane hit power lines Sunday have issued a statement expressing their appreciation for the prayers and support of friends but asked that their privacy be respected until arrangements for his services have been made.

“Our three boys and I are deeply grieving,” said Trent Johnson’s widow, Sarah Mesenhimer-Johnson, in a statement released late Tuesday afternoon through family friend and Modesto Councilman Bill Zoslocki. “Right now, we are dealing with a sudden and yet repeated tragedy.”

Mesenhimer-Johnson’s father, Dave Mesenhimer, died in a 2006 plane crash with former Modesto Irrigation District board chairman Chuck Billington near the Oakdale Airport. Mesenhimer was co-owner of the Modesto Flight Center.

“Never would we have imagined that the boys’ beloved father would be taken from us 13 years after their grandfather — my dad — died in the same manner,” Mesenhimer-Johnson said in the statement.

The statement said Trent Johnson had a passion for flying, had dreamed of being a pilot since he was a boy, and died on Father’s Day doing what gave him great joy.

Zoslocki, who also is a pilot, said the family would have no further comment at this time but confirmed that Johnson was 58 years old.

Authorities have said they believe they know who was flying the plane but have not released his name or confirmed that he died in the crash.

But witnesses have said the pilot did not surface after the airplane crashed into the lake nose first and quickly disappeared. No one else was believed to have been in the plane.

The accident happened about 11:40 a.m. Sunday near the Poker Flat area, a private, gated community along the lake that includes vacation homes. The lake is several miles northeast of Knights Ferry and straddles Calaveras and Tuolumne counties.

The Calaveras County Sheriff’s Department announced Monday afternoon the plane had been found about 110 feet below the lake’s surface and additional resources would be called in to recover it. A Sheriff’s Department spokesman did not return a Wednesday morning phone message, and the department has not issued a statement since Monday.

But Jack Cox, who lives in the Cooper Cove subdivision along the lake, said he was eating dinner about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Drifters Grill when he spotted rescue workers bringing the plane toward the shore. Cox said he joined a crowd of about a dozen bystanders who watched the effort.

He said divers attached what looked like a square bladder — roughly 10 feet by 12 feet — to the top of the plane and rescue workers inflated it. Cox said that once the plane was 60 feet below the lake’s surface, the pressure was low enough for divers to open the aircraft’s door and remove the pilot’s body.

Cox did not witness that but learned about it from talking with the divers and a sheriff’s deputy. Cox is a former Bay Area news reporter and said his instincts and training kicked in.

Cox said he saw rescue workers use the bladder along with a winch on a flat boat bring the airplane up and tow it to a boat launch. “This crew did a real professional job,” he said. “They brought it (the plane) up slowly to keep it intact.”

The aircraft is a Piper PA-11 and — according to Federal Aviation Administration records — was manufactured in 1948. 

Johnson was a designer with Turlock-based Wilkey Industries, which designs, fabricates and installs “processing equipment in agricultural, industrial and manufacturing facilities,” according to its website.

Company owner Jack Wilkey said in a Monday interview that Johnson had planned to fly to Columbia Airport, which was holding its annual Father’s Day Fly-In that weekend, and would fly over Tulloch Lake on his return trip to the Modesto Airport. A Wilkey Industries’ employee was at his vacation home on the lake.

“He waved his wings, and then it happened,” Wilkey said, based on his employee’s account of the accident. The aircraft struck several power lines, causing an outage to more than 700 Pacific Gas & Electric Co. customers.

The National Transportation Safety Board is the lead investigator in the fatal crash and will be assisted by the FAA and the engine and airframe manufacturers.

NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said in a Wednesday phone interview that his agency will issue a preliminary report within two weeks of Sunday’s accident. He said it can take 12 to 24 months to issue the final report, which will include the accident’s probable cause.

Original article can be found here ➤

 June 16th, 2019
Piper PA-11 Cub Special, N209H

 Photo taken on June 18th, 2019
Piper PA-11 Cub Special, N209H

Photo taken on May 31st, 2019
Pilot Trent Johnson, pictured with his sons, (left to right) Shelby Johnson, Will Johnson, and Ryan Johnson. The picture was taken May 31st, 2019 as the twins graduated at Johansen High in Modesto. 

CALAVERAS COUNTY (CBS13) — On Tuesday, crews recovered the single prop plane that crashed into Lake Tulloch Sunday.

The plane struck nearby power lines and crashed, sinking more than 100 feet below the surface.

Crews needed a crane and a barge to recover the plane.

The pilot of that plane has been identified as Trent Johnson.

His family released a statement Tuesday regarding the tragic plane accident.

“Trent Johnson had a passion for flying. Since he was a little boy he dreamed of flying, eventually getting his pilot’s license, and marrying into a family who also loved to fly. Trent died on Sunday, Father’s Day, while doing something that gave him such great joy.

‘Our three boys and I are deeply grieving,’ said Trent’s wife, Sarah Mesenhimer-Johnson. ‘Right now we are dealing with a sudden and yet repeated tragedy. Never would we have imagined that the boy’s beloved father would be taken from us 13 years after their grandfather – my dad – died in the same manner.'”

Original article ➤

LAKE TULLOCH -- Search crews pulled a small plane from the bottom of Lake Tulloch Tuesday after it crashed into the water Sunday morning.

The pilot's body was inside the plane, according to the Calaveras County Sheriff's Office.

Friends identified the pilot as Trent Johnson, describing him as a kind and respectful family man.

"He flew probably once or twice a week and he loved his airplane," friend Scott Naylor said. "That was his own private plane that he owned outright on his own."

The Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office says Johnson’s yellow plane plunged into Lake Tulloch Sunday morning after the wing struck a power line.

"Those wires are hard to see and he was probably paying more attention to his friends down in the water than he was to what was ahead of him," friend Tom Sliger said.

Johnson was returning to the Modesto airport where he stored his plane. He flew nearly every weekend.

A close family friend sent the following statement on behalf of Johnson's family:

Trent Johnson had a passion for flying. Since he was a little boy he dreamed of flying, eventually getting his pilot's license, and marrying into a family who also loved to fly. Trent died on Sunday, Father's Day, while doing something that gave him such great joy.

"Our three boys and I are deeply grieving," a quote read from Trent's wife, Sarah Mesenhimer-Johnson. "Right now we are dealing with a sudden and yet repeated tragedy. Never would we have imagined that the boy's beloved father would be taken from us 13 years after their grandfather - my dad - died in the same manner."

Officials say the plane was found 110 feet underwater. Crews were out on the lake on a barge to try to get the plane out all day Tuesday.

"I believe he was a Christian man and I believe he is where all good people go," Naylor said.

Story and video ➤

Local pilot, Trent Johnson of Modesto, right, helps suspend an airplane shaped display of balloons at the Commemorative Air Force hangar at Modesto airport, in Modesto, California, June 26th, 2010. His employer has identified him as the pilot that crashed into Lake Tulloch on June 16th, 2019. 

The 63-year-old plane that struck power lines and plunged into Tulloch Reservoir on Sunday was registered to Trent F. Johnson, a Modesto resident and pilot who remains missing while Calaveras and Tuolumne county law enforcement work on raising the plane that lies 110 feet below the surface.

The Piper PA-11 single-engine had a valid certificate issued July 2012 through July 2021, according to Federal Aviation Administration records referenced Tuesday by the National Transportation Safety Board, the lead agency investigating the crash. The plane’s initial airworthiness date was Jan. 18, 1956.

Johnson’s private pilot certificate was issued May 5, 2010 and he was required to wear corrective lenses, according to FAA records.

The pilot was intending to fly into Modesto City-County Airport, said Thomas Reeves, a spokesperson for the airport, who emphasized he could not confirm Johnson’s identity. The Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office, lead local agency on the crash, has not identified the pilot or confirmed whether the pilot is dead.

Emergency operators received 13 reports of a plane going into the reservoir between 11:39 a.m. and 12:07 p.m. Sunday, according to Calaveras County sheriff’s staff. The plane was located about noon Monday near the Poker Flat area.

To recover the submerged aircraft, local law enforcement has contracted divers who are specifically trained to dive to depths greater than 100 feet, Lt. Anthony Eberhardt with the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday. They plan to use air bags to lift the plane to the reservoir surface, and then hoist the plane onto a barge.

Tuolumne County has two boating division deputies on the reservoir maintaining a perimeter on the area of recovery and keeping other vessels out, so there is little water movement for the aircraft recovery teams, Sgt. Andrea Benson with Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday.

The pilot was flying from Columbia Airport, where the Father’s Day Fly-In was under way, and he intended to fly over Tulloch Reservoir when the crash occurred, Johnson’s employer told The Modesto Bee. Johnson worked for Wilkey Industries, which is based in Turlock, according to the company owner Jack Wilkey.

Witnesses and Wilkey said Johnson’s plane did a flyby and a wing-dip for people watching before striking power lines and plummeting nose-first into the reservoir.

Johnson was married, a family man, and it was a tragedy he died on Father’s Day, pilot Cameron Glynn, a class of 2017 Sonora High School graduate now based in Modesto, told CBS 13 Sacramento. Glynn flies out of Modesto City-County Airport.

The power lines Johnson’s plane struck were not marked, but pilots know they fly at their own risk in open air space over a reservoir, Glynn said, adding that flying into any object is considered a critical pilot error.

Dennis Calavan, a pilot based in Columbia, said Tuesday he thought he’d spoken to Johnson on Sunday at the Father’s Day Fly-In but he learned Tuesday morning he was mistaken. He said the power lines Johnson’s plane struck are well-known to pilots familiar with Tulloch Reservoir.

“I didn’t see him or speak to him, it was a different pilot I spoke to at the Fly-In,” Calavan said. “But I’ve flown that area on Tulloch before. You know about those lines, you look at them and you watch for them as you come around. He should have been familiar with it, he’s flown in that area before.”

Calavan said there’s a series of power lines, a group of lines, as many as five individual lines, and they’re not marked but maybe they should be. Power lines in other areas, like Altamont Pass, are marked, Calavan said.

“I feel bad for him and his family,” Calavan said. “That’s a sad thing he’ll never come home. It’s lucky there was nobody else.”

Benedict Stuth, the airport manager at Columbia Airport and an organizer of the Columbia Airport Father’s Day Fly-In, did not respond to calls for comment.

Outages from the plane striking power lines were reported from 11:41 a.m. Sunday onward, according to a Pacific Gas and Electric spokesperson. The outages and a shutoff for repairs affected more than 3,100 customers before power was restored before sundown Sunday.

Original article ➤


  1. How many times a year does something like this happen?

    We don't learn because we think it will never happen to us personally.


  2. OLD > BOLD ...Which guy would you rather be?

  3. Mr Buzz the neighborhood pilot: "Where did those power lines come from??!!!"

  4. i know its still the PIC fault, but those lines are not on the sectional. i found the two that are via google earth and they were pretty accurate on the sectional.

  5. If all power lines were mapped the sectional would be unreadable and as such unusable.

    I'm going to fly really low today ... A buzz job or two
    I need to be really 'careful' because there are power lines down there
    I need to look really closely for power lines
    Some power lines are really hard to see until the last second
    Ahhh ... Can't happen to me

    If you choose to fly low you are accepting a higher risk ... Whether you think it can't happen to you or not