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Coroner Works To Identify 2 Killed In East Bay Plane Crash

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Aerial view of the wreckage of a small plane in a field near Discovery Bay, October 23, 2012. (CBS)

Aerial view of the wreckage of a small plane in a field near Discovery Bay, October 23, 2012. (CBS)

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BYRON (CBS SF) — Federal and local investigators on Wednesday returned to the site near Brentwood where an experimental plane crashed on Tuesday, killing two people.

The Contra Costa County coroner’s office Wednesday morning sent examiners to the crash site, on a tilled farm field several miles north of the Byron Airport, to work toward identifying the two victims, sheriff’s office spokesman Jimmy Lee said.

Coroner’s investigators are reviewing the victims’ dental records and must notify their next of kin before the sheriff’s office can release their names, Lee said.

The Federal Aviation Administration reported that two people died in the crash of a Glasair III, an experimental, single-engine plane, around 2 p.m. Tuesday, four and a half miles from the airport in Byron.

Both the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash, with the safety board serving as the lead agency.

FAA records show that the fixed-wing plane was “amateur built” and manufactured in 2008 by David S. Behne.

Behne is the owner and manager of the Funny Farm Airport, a private airstrip at 2650 Penny Lane in Brentwood, according to the FAA’s online list of U.S. airports.

Authorities have not yet determined that Behne was in the crash. But Behne’s son, Eric, 23, confirmed Wednesday that his father took off from the Funny Farm airstrip prior to the crash.

Eric Behne said his father started flying planes at age 16 at the Funny Farm facility, which was first owned by David’s stepfather.

His father built and completed a Glasair III plane about a year ago, and used it to commute from the airstrip in Brentwood to his job at Space Systems/Loral in Palo Alto, he said.

“He flew almost every day to Palo Alto Airport, for seven years now, almost every day,” he said. “It took him 15 minutes, versus two hours (by car.)”

On the day of the crash, his father and the second victim “were just flying around, not to any specific place,” he said.

Earl Hibler, a Glasair pilot from Alameda who said he has known David Behne for 18 years, said his friend “was addicted to planes, he loved to fly.”

“It’s a sad thing and a great loss,” Hibler said. “He loved aviation and supported aviation.”

David Behne, an engineer, worked previously for major defense contractors Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney and most recently at Space Systems/Loral, where he worked on commercial communications satellites used by firms such as Dish Network and DirecTV, according to Loral spokeswoman Wendy Lewis.

While the cause of the crash is still under investigation, Rick Lambert, a technical counselor for the Experimental Aviation Association’s chapter in Concord and who has built several Glasair III planes, said the aircraft may have stalled after takeoff.

“I think he was taking off and he lost power, what is called a ‘departure stall,’” Lambert said. “It could have been electrical, mechanical or fuel.”

The plane was registered to DSB, Inc. out of Fernley, Nev. It had a reciprocating engine, which is driven by pistons.

The engine, the model IO-540, was made by the Lycoming company, the FAA reported.

The IO-540 is a six-cylinder, fuel-injected engine, according to the company’s website. Lycoming is based in Williamsport, Penn.

The Glasair III is a plane built from a kit in as little as two weeks, and has a 23-foot wingspan and two-blade propeller, according to the Glasair Aviation company website.

A spokesperson for the NTSB’s West Coast office in Gardenia, Calif., could not be reached for comment Wednesday morning.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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