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Missing pilot who crashed in Lake Tulloch is Modesto-area man

The Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Department, Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Department, CAL Fire and several other agencies, assisted the Calaveras County Sheriff’s department with the search and rescue efforts for a downed pilot and plane in the Poker Flat area on Sunday June 16, 2019.
The Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Department, Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Department, CAL Fire and several other agencies, assisted the Calaveras County Sheriff’s department with the search and rescue efforts for a downed pilot and plane in the Poker Flat area on Sunday June 16, 2019. Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department

The pilot of the yellow single-engine airplane that hit power lines before crashing into Lake Tulloch late Sunday morning is a Modesto-area resident.

The Calaveras County Sheriff’s Department announced late Monday afternoon that searchers had found the aircraft about 110 feet below the lake’s surface and will be calling in more resources to recover it. Searchers used sonar to find the plane and an underwater remotely operated vehicle to confirm that, according to a news release.

The accident also knocked out power to more than 700 Pacific Gas & Electric Co. customers for about seven hours.

Officials have not released the name of the pilot. But Jack Wilkey, owner of Turlock-based Wilkey Industries, confirmed the identify of the pilot as Trent Johnson. Public records list his age as 57 or 58.

He said Johnson had planned to fly to the Columbia Airport in Tuolumne County on Sunday. The airport had planned to hold its annual Father’s Day Fly-In over the weekend, according to its website. Wilkey said his company’s salesman was at his summer home at Tulloch Lake, and Johnson had planned to fly by the lake on his flight back to Modesto Airport.

“He waved his wings, and then it happened,” Wilkey said, based on his salesman’s account of the accident.

Wilkey said Johnson has worked for his company for about five years as a designer. Wilkey Industries designs, fabricates and installs “processing equipment in agricultural, industrial and manufacturing facilities,” according to its website.

“He is a very hardworking and honest man,” Wilkey said. “He is the kind of person you want for a friend.”

Officials said Sunday’s accident occurred about 11:40 a.m. in Calaveras County and near the Poker Flat area, a private, gated community along the lake that includes vacation homes. The lake is several miles northeast of Knights Ferry and straddles Calaveras and Tuolumne counties. It stores Stanislaus River water for the Oakdale and South San Joaquin irrigation districts.

No one else was believed to be in the plane, and witnesses did not report the pilot coming to the surface after the crash.

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Witnesses reported that the plane entered the lake nose first and quickly disappeared. Calaveras County Sheriff’s Lt. Anthony Eberhardt said in a Monday morning phone interview that officials believe they have identified the pilot and that he is from Stanislaus County. He declined to release more details.

The search effort has included the Calaveras, Tuolumne and Amador county sheriff’s departments, the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District, the Cal Fire Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Eberhardt said the search continued until dark Sunday and resumed when it was light Monday. He said there were about 20 people searching Monday morning in an area of the lake roughly the size of two football fields.

A PG&E spokesman said the aircraft went through several wires, which left 776 customers without power until it was restored at 6:24 p.m. The accident also affected some remote operations equipment, and PG&E briefly turned off power to 2,402 customers as it assessed the damage. The spokesman said power was restored to those customers about 30 minutes later.

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