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El Cajon plane crash probe continues; victims identified

Matthew Bowler
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board are on the scene of an airplane crash at the 1200 block of Pepper Drive in El Cajon, December 29, 2021.

The investigation is continuing into the crash of a small airplane that took off from John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana and slammed into a neighborhood near El Cajon, killing all four people aboard, Monday night.

The Federal Aviation Administration has confirmed the plane was a 10-seat Learjet 35A, operated by Aeromedevac Air Ambulance based at Gillespie Field. Wednesday morning, the International Association of EMTs and Paramedics (IAEP) also confirmed flight nurses Tina Ward and Laurie Gentz were killed in the crash and released an undated photo showing them in front of the ill-fated plane with tail number N880Z.

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IAEP Local 162
Pictured in this undated photo are Julian Jorge Bugaj (left), Tina Ward (front), Laurie Gentz (center) and Douglas James Grande (right), pilots and flight nurses aboard the Learjet 35A tail number N880Z that crashed in an El Cajon neighborhood Monday night.

The San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office on Wednesday identified the other two crash victims as Douglas James Grande, 45, and 67-year-old Julian Jorge Bugaj.

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board spent Wednesday on the scene of the crash site along the 1200 block of Pepper Drive and North Mollison Avenue in the unincorporated Bostonia neighborhood.

The area is a few miles east of Gillespie Field airport, where the plane was scheduled to land.

No information has been released about what led to the crash. The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board will be handling the investigation.

RELATED: Plane crashes into neighborhood near El Cajon, no survivors found

Matthew Bowler
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board are on the scene of an airplane crash at the 1200 block of Pepper Drive in El Cajon, December 29, 2021.

The aircraft had flown a patient from Arizona to Orange County before attempting its return trip to Gillespie Field, where the crashed occured around 7:15 p.m, a couple of miles short of the runway.

NBC7 reported that Aeromedevac's website — which was later taken down — indicated that their aircraft are equipped with two pilots and two medical team workers.

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Company statement from Aeromedevac Air Ambulance on the Monday plane crash in El Cajon.

The union representing Oceanside firefighters reported that one of the victims was Tina Ward, a flight nurse and the wife of the department's recently retired deputy chief, Joe Ward.

"It is with heavy hearts that the Oceanside Fire Department and their fire family would like to extend our deepest condolences to our recently retired Chief Ward, his family, and all family and friends of the Aeromedevac flight crew N880Z. Chief Ward's wife Tina, was a flight nurse on board of the aircraft that crashed last night in El Cajon," Oceanside Firefighters Association 3736 posted Tuesday night on Instagram. "We are shocked and saddened by this devastating news and are keeping you all in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time."

Matthew Bowler
Debris is strewn across 1200 Pepper Drive in El Cajon while Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board try to learn why the airplane crashed, December 29, 2021.

Deputies from the San Diego County Sheriff's Department's Santee and Lakeside stations immediately responded to the crash scene along with the Lakeside Fire Protection District, the California Highway Patrol and the El Cajon Police Department.

One home was damaged, but no injuries were reported on the ground.

Witnesses on the ground told reporters that the crash occurred in very poor weather conditions, amid rain and thick fog.

Pepper Drive was expected to remain closed between Topper Lane and North Second Street through Wednesday, officials said.

RELATED: ‘You appear to be descending again sir,’ pilot told before deadly Santee crash

Matthew Bowler
Aerial view of Gillespie Field airport in El Cajon, Dec. 28, 2021.

The sheriff's department tweeted Tuesday afternoon that the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office had cleared the crash site, and all road closures should be lifted by Wednesday evening.

The crash took down an unknown amount of power lines. San Diego Gas & Electric reported that seven customers in the El Cajon area were still without power Tuesday night, with power expected to be restored by 3 p.m. Wednesday.

The American Red Cross was providing assistance to residents who remain affected by the power outage, according to sheriff's officials.

Four killed in El Cajon plane crash reportedly were two pilots, two nurses

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