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Feds launch probe of skydiving plane crash in Acampo vineyard

Federal investigators are looking into the crash of a tightly packed skydiving plane carrying 18 people that landed upside down in an Acampo vineyard on Thursday afternoon – a review that likely will include a look at maintenance records and weight and balance calculations on the plane.

“At this point it is under investigation,” National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Keith Holloway said Friday. “Once we have access to the aircraft, we will conduct the physical examination of the aircraft.”

No passengers were hurt in the crash into the vineyard just east of Highway 99 between Galt and Lodi in San Joaquin County. The pilot suffered a “minor injury,” according to a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman. A skydiving center official described the injury as a bloody nose. All 18 aboard were wearing seat belts, the official said.

A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said the plane was a single-engine Cessna 208B. The plane experienced engine trouble after takeoff from Lodi Airport, home of the Lodi Parachute Center. The pilot tried to return to the airport but clipped a vehicle on approach, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor wrote in an email.

FAA officials said they and the NTSB look at whether the pilot was qualified to fly that aircraft, the pilot’s medical record, weather conditions, the maintenance log of the aircraft and weight and balance calculations.

The crash occurred near the Lodi Airport. William Dause, who operates the skydiving center at the airport, said he believes the plane flipped when it clipped a grapevine wire on approach.

“The wire caused it to flip on its back,” he said.

The skydiving center in Acampo has been challenged twice in recent years by federal officials for safety violations.

In 2010, the Federal Aviation Administration proposed a $664,000 penalty against Dause, the center operator, “for allegedly failing to perform required aircraft parts replacements,” according to a press release issued at the time by the FAA. The agency alleged that the local center operated a DeHavilland DHC-6 in 2008 and 2009 “when critical parts were well past their life limits and without inspecting portions of the wings for corrosion.”

The following year, the FAA proposed a $269,000 penalty against the center for operating a DeHavilland plane on 41 flights during two weeks in 2009 when it was not in compliance with federal aviation regulations.

Dause, of the skydiving center, however, said the federal government dropped the demand for penalty payments after further review.

“They realized it wasn’t an issue,” he said.

An FAA spokesman on Friday said he did not know whether any fines were ultimately imposed.

The Cessna involved in Thursday’s incident is owned by Flanagan Enterprises Inc., a company in Zephyr Cove, Nev., according to the aviation administration’s registry. The registry shows that the company owns about 12 planes. Dause of the Lodi center said he rents the plane from Flanagan Enterprises.

A plane owned by Flanagan Enterprises and operated by a company called Skydive Salt Lake was involved in a crash that killed nine people in 2001 in Utah, according to National Transportation Safety Board records. The records indicate the group was returning from a skydiving trip. The plane crashed into water while descending over the Great Salt Lake.

A number of patrons of the Lodi skydiving center have died in recent years while skydiving. A skydiver fell to his death in February after his parachute malfunctioned. And in February 2009, two elite skydivers were killed when their parachutes tangled.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak