COLUMBIA, Calif. - Two people died when their plane crashed in the heart of California's gold country Monday, and a sheriff's deputy was killed as he was speeding to the scene to help them, authorities said.
The small Piper aircraft registered out of Gardnerville, went down at about 11 a.m., shortly after taking off from the Columbia airport. Witnesses say the plane sputtered and fell to the ground, bursting into flames upon impact and starting a small brush fire that was quickly extinguished.
A veteran Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department deputy responding to the plane crash lost control of his vehicle on Highway 49 and slammed into a tree, said Sgt. Roger Dittberner. The deputy's name was withheld pending notification of his next of kin.
The deputy was a 15-year veteran of the force and had worked in law enforcement for 26 years total, Dittberner said.
The deputy was pronounced dead at 12:14 p.m. at the Sonora Regional Medical Center.
National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration officials were making their way to the plane crash in the afternoon to investigate.
Columbia is located about 60 miles east of Stockton.