Local News

Friday, Dec 27 2013 06:25 PM

Pilot who died in Fresno crash tentatively identified as Tehachapi resident

A Tehachapi man has been tentatively identified as the pilot of a Cessna 172 that crashed in the yard of a home near Chandler Downtown Airport in Fresno at about 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 26.

According to Venu Gopal, Fresno County's chief forensic pathologist, the pilot, who was killed in the crash along with a child passenger, is believed to be Timothy Lowell Farmer, 72, of Tehachapi.

He also said the child was tentatively identified as Finn Thompson, 9, who lives in the Fresno area. The child is believed to be Farmer's nephew.

No one in the house where the plane crashed was injured and the house was not damaged, police said.

Gopal said the identities will be confirmed through dental records, which the Fresno County Coroner's Office is awaiting.  

He said he has been in touch with the victims' Fresno relatives.

"The positive identities will be done through dental records," he said.

And although there is not yet positive confirmation, a number of Tehachapi area pilots who knew Farmer told the Tehachapi News it is likely that he was piloting the Cessna 172 owned by another local resident, George Novinger, at the time of the crash.

Novinger said he loaned the plane to Farmer, an experienced pilot who sold his own Cessna 172 about a year ago. He noted that he went up with Farmer recently for about a half hour flight to check out the plane and that it had no problems. Farmer had flown it many times in the past, he said.

Another local pilot, Ken Hetge, said Farmer was a resident of Bear Valley Springs with considerable flight experience and was retired from a law enforcement investigation position in Southern California.

Kim Cummings of Tehachapi, also a pilot, was among the last people to see Farmer before he took off from Tehachapi Municipal Airport at about 4:30 p.m. Thursday.

Cummings said Farmer was fueling Novinger's plane. He estimated that it would have taken him until about 5 p.m. to get in the air and that the flight to Fresno would have been about an hour, making the timing right for him to have arrived in Fresno around the time of the crash.

Local pilots said that Farmer's car was still parked next to the space at Tehachapi Municipal Airport where Novinger's plane is normally parked.

And Novinger said that Farmer called him about 4:30 p.m., said he was headed to Fresno, and that he would be available on his cell phone again after 6 p.m.

According to Josh Cawthra, aviation accident investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, the pilot of the aircraft approached the airport in Fresno within its normal landing pattern, then made looping, 180-degree turns over the airport before the plane clipped a tree and crashed outside a southwest Fresno home, causing it to burst into flames.

Cawthra said the airplane and other evidence from the crash would be moved to a site in nearby Madera for further review. He said a preliminary report on the crash will be available in about five days with a final report in six months to a year.

Cummings speculated that air pollution and darkness may have made landing at the airport difficult. Like Tehachapi's airport, Chandler operates without air traffic control. Particulate matter concentrations in the San Joaquin Valley this week have been at Level 4, with Level 5 the worst.

Novinger said he first met Farmer when he was a teacher at Hoover High School in Glendale in 1959 and Farmer was a student. The two became reacquainted after both moved to Tehachapi.

He said he learned about the airplane crash while watching television news on Friday morning. When he heard that a Cessna 172 that had flown between Fresno and Tehachapi has crashed, he suspected it was his plane.

By mid-afternoon Friday, though, Novinger said he had not heard from any officials in Fresno. But once he was identified by news media as the owner of the plane, he started receiving many calls from reporters.

Although Farmer is believed to have been married and had a daughter, he lived along in Tehachapi, friends said. He joined the Kiwanis Club about a year ago. Club President Donna Fischman said he was a very nice man who had been enthusiastic about working on club projects.

Tehachapi City Manager Greg Garrett said Farmer was a past employee of the city who worked as an airport attendant for a little more than a year. 

"He was a great guy and will be missed considerably," Garrett said. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family."

GEORGE HOSTETTER, DIANA AGUILERA AND JACOB RAYBURN of the Fresno Bee and JASON KOTOWSKI of The Bakersfield Californian contributed to this story.

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