3 bodies recovered from remote plane crash site

RANCHITA, Calif. -- Authorities recover the remains of three people from the wreckage of a plane that crashed and sparked a 12-acre brush fire on a remote slope near Volcan Mountain, sheriff's officials said.

Deputies discovered the bodies Sunday morning, but steep, treacherous terrain made it impossible to move the remains except by helicopter, and high winds prevented the sheriff's aircraft from reaching the remote canyon, San Diego County sheriff's Lt. Greg Rylaarsdam said.

The remains of the crash victims were removed from the mountain Monday around midday, a sheriff's official told FOX 5.

The treacherous terrain made the recovery extremely challenging. Rylaarsdam likened reaching it by foot as "hiking almost down the face of a cliff."

Making matters worse, the ground was still hot over the weekend from the fire that was apparently sparked by the crash, Rylaarsdam said. The ground was so hot, in fact, that firefighters warned sheriff's deputies Saturday that their ropes and boots would melt if they tried hiking to the aircraft wreckage.

On Sunday, still wary of using climbing ropes, Cal Fire crews laid down dry hose lines that deputies were able to use to climb down to the crash site, the lieutenant said. The impact of the crash resulted in a wreckage site consisting of a debris field, but not an intact plane.

The sheriff's department will turn the remains over to the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office to officially identify them and notify their families. Officials assume, but have not yet confirmed, that the crashed plane was a 1979 twin-engine Beechcraft Duchess that was registered at El Cajon's Gillespie Field to the Scandanavian Aviation Academy. That plane was a four-seater.

That plane was due to land at Ramona Airport on Thursday night but never showed up. Instead, a Julian resident reported seeing a plane crash near Volcan Mountain around 8:30 p.m. Thursday. Less than 30 minutes later, authorities got word of a small brush fire in the same area.

A contractor with the National Transportation Safety Board was at the crash site Monday morning, Rylaarsdam said. The NTSB is responsible for identifying the plane and investigating the crash. The sheriff's lieutenant said he hoped there were large enough pieces of the plane left intact for the contractor to positively identify the wreckage.

Officials believe the crash sparked the brush fire, dubbed the Volcan Fire. The blaze was 100 percent contained as of Monday morning, but Cal Fire San Diego crews expected to be at the scene at least until midweek mopping it up and monitoring for hot spots, spokesman Isaac Sanchez said.