Mokelumne Hill, CA Private Plane Crash, Mar 1989


Mokelumne Hill -- A 15-minute Easter pleasure flight that began at the Cameron Park Airport ended in tragedy here when the plane crashed, instantly killing the pilot, CHARLES ROBERT DRAGO, DRAGO'S 17-month-old grandson, his daughter, and her fiance.
BOB DRAGO, 49, of Cameron Park, reportedly loaded his family into the Mooney 20 single-engine aircraft shortly before noon Sunday for what he thought would be a short flight over the foothills. Along for the ride was his grandson, CORY ROWLAND; his 21-year-old daughter, TONI MARIE DRAGO, and her fiance, 24-year-old
DRAGO'S wife Sharon reportedly had remained at home cooking Easter dinner, as did DRAGO'S second daughter Kimberly Rowland, the mother of Cory Rowland. El Dorado County sheriff's officers arrived at the Drago home on Oxford Drive at about 6:30 p.m. with news of the four deaths.
A pilot flying to the nearby Calaveras County Airport witnessed the crash that occurred between Mokolumne Hill and San Andreas, behind the Mokolumne Hill dump site off Highway 49, according to Calaveras County sheriff's officers. The plane reportedly sputtered a few times, then stalled and dove to the ground. It crashed into an area that was "not terribly isolated, but they (emergency crews) had to hike in to get to it."
Would be rescuers arrived at the site to find a demolished plane with three adults still sitting inside the cab. They soon found the baby pinned under his aunt, and attempted to administer CPR to the baby. But the four all apparently died upon impact, sheriff's officers said.
Investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board remained at the crash scene yesterday, sifting through the wreckage in search of clues as to why the plane crashed. Investigators will disassemble the engines to determine if mechanical problems existed, and also will search for possible control problems, according to Fred O'Donnell, public affairs spokesman for the FAA. The cause of the crash may not be discovered for weeks or possibly months, he said.
Drago and his wife recently had moved to Cameron Park from El Dorado Hills where the daughter Toni had attended Oak Ridge High School. The family was in the process of putting the finishing touches on their newly constructed home facing the airport.
"They live right across the runway," said Marion Tanger, operator of the Cameron Park Airport.
"We can see the house from here. Bob just finished putting in a hangar underneath the house."
"I understand that the plane quit, and instead of gliding down, he tried to keep it up. When he tried to keep it up it stalled. That's when they fell from the sky like a rock."
Neighbors of Drago described him as a very experienced pilot and a man who "lived to fly."
"He was busy trying to finish his house, so I didn't see much of him," said Ed Blair, a pilot who lines next door. "I know he was excited about airplanes and he was excited about living here. That's why he build his house in the configuration that it's in. Every room has windows facing out onto the runway."
"This thing has set us all back; makes us wonder when it will be our turn. It's tremendously emotional."
"If it had just been Bob, that would have been one thing. As a pilot, if I go out and run myself into a hill somewhere, that's OK. But when others are involved, that's another story."
Another neighbor and pilot, Cecil Shelley, agreed about the terrible circumstances, adding that he "just can't understand what could have happened."
"I'd like to talk to those people who said the plane was sputtering," Shelley said. "I've been up in that plane and everything seemed fine. I never heard it sputter."
"And I hear that at one point he got it restarted, so I can't understand why he didn't head for the airport when it was so close."

Mountain Democrat Placerville California 1989-03-29