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Pilot in fatal Truckee plane crash had expired medical certificate, FAA says

At least two people have died in a plane crash near the Truckee-Tahoe Airport, according to the Placer County Sheriff’s Office. Deputies believe there were three people on the private plane, and the third was taken to a local hospital.
At least two people have died in a plane crash near the Truckee-Tahoe Airport, according to the Placer County Sheriff’s Office. Deputies believe there were three people on the private plane, and the third was taken to a local hospital. Courtesy of the Placer County Sheriff's Office

The pilot whose private plane crashed south of Truckee on Tuesday morning was flying with an expired medical certificate, according to multiple sources.

Flying without a medical certificate is an illegal violation of Federal Aviation Administration regulations, according to Ian Gregor, public affairs manager for the FAA’s Pacific Division.

The accident killed the pilot, 67-year-old Kenneth Whitall-Scherfee of Carmichael, and one of his passengers, 55-year-old Peter Jackson of West Hollywood. The plane’s only other passenger, whose identity has not been released, was being treated for critical injuries in a Reno-area hospital as of Thursday afternoon.

To fly a private plane — in Whitall-Scherfee’s case, a 67-year-old Navion B fixed-wing single-engine craft — a pilot must possess both a private pilot license and a third-class medical certificate. The former is good for life; the latter validates the former and must be renewed periodically.

Whitall-Scherfee received his private pilot license in January 2014, and last had his medical certificate renewed in May 2017, according to the FAA’s website.

His medical certificate came with two specific caveats: that the pilot “must have available glasses for near vision” and that the certificate was “not valid for any class after,” according to the FAA’s website.

That second clause refers to the early expiration date of Whitall-Scherfee’s medical certificate.

Third-class medical certificates are typically valid for 24 months for pilots over the age of 40, Gregor said. But Whitall-Scherfee’s was valid for only 12 months, and so expired on May 31, 2018, according to a representative from the Aerospace Medical Certification Division who had access to Whitall-Scherfee’s records.

Gregor confirmed that Whitall-Scherfee’s medical certificate was valid for neither Tuesday’s flight nor the two months prior.

Gregor said he was not at liberty to speculate on or disclose why Whitall-Scherfee’s medical certificate expired sooner than most.

Robert Katz, a flight instructor and pilot of 37 years, said pilots whose medical certificate applications are initially rejected, then granted after an appeals process, sometimes receive certificates with shorter durations.

Pilots who violate FAA regulations can face a variety of sanctions, ranging from warning letters to license revocations, Gregor said.

Gregor said that flying without a medical certificate was not typical.

“It’s not common, but it occasionally happens,” Gregor said.

Katz said he believes the phenomenon is “pervasive,” and that pilots fly without medical certificates “every day of the week.”

Whitall-Scherfee had reported having issues with the plane’s engine after taking off from the airport, and was trying to return there when the crash took place, Gregor said. The pilot sent out a mayday call after takeoff, the Placer County Sheriff’s Office tweeted.

The crash occurred south of the Truckee-Tahoe Airport, between Highway 267 and the Northstar mountain area, said Officer Pete Mann, a spokesman with California Highway Patrol in Truckee.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash.

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