Single-Engine Airplane Crash Kills Modesto Pilot

Single-Engine Airplane Crash Kills Pilot

On June 16, an airplane crash killed Trent Johnson, a pilot from the Modesto area. His Piper PA-11 single-engine plane struck some power lines and crashed, nose first, into Lake Tulloch. The accident occurred at around 11:40 a.m. near Poker Flat, which is a lakeside, gated community. The plane was recovered from the lake about 110 feet down with the deceased pilot onboard, according to the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Department. I would like to extend my sympathy to the family and friends of the deceased for their tragic loss.

How the Airplane Crash Happened

The owner of the company, Jack Wilkey, said that Johnson intended to go to the Father’s Day Fly-In at Columbia Airport. On his return to the airport in Modesto, he would be flying over Tulloch Lake. Wilkey stated that Johnson waved the wings of his plane and then the plane hit power lines and crashed into the water. A power outage resulted for over 700 nearby residents.


Johnson wasn’t the only one in the family to die in an airplane crash. His widow’s father, Dave Mesenhimer, also died in a crash in 2006. Her father co-owned the Modesto Flight Center along with Larry Askew. Askew sold the flight center following the death of his partner, who died in the airplane accident along with Chuck Billington. Billington had been an irrigation district board chairman in Modesto. Johnson worked as a designer at Wilkey Industries, based in Turlock. The company installs, fabricates, and designs equipment for facilities that deal in agriculture, manufacturing, and industry.

Investigation Into the Airplane Crash

An investigation into the crash is being led by the National Transportation Safety Board. The FAA is assisting in the investigation as well as airframe and engine manufacturers to determine what happened.

Common Causes of Small Airplane Crashes

There are a number of reasons for a small airplane crash. They are:

  • Pilot error: This is by far the primary reason that small airplanes crash. Many times it is due to inexperience.
  • Inclement weather: Bad weather can cause havoc on a small plane. About 12 percent of all small airplane crashes are associated with inclement weather. If the pilot is inexperienced, this worsens the situation. As the weather affects the pilot’s ability to see where they are going, it becomes necessary to rely on instruments. Without the necessary training to do this, a new pilot can crash the plane.
  • Running out of gas: Sometimes, pilots are not aware that they are running low on fuel. Studies show that about two small plane crashes every week are due to lack of fuel.
  • Birds: Birds are often implicated in a small airplane crash. The most common are geese, vultures, and seagulls.
  • Striking an object: Striking an outside object can cause problems for an aircraft traveling at a high speed. This happens commonly during liftoff. For example, an aircraft that does not achieve sufficient height can hit a tree near the runway.
  • Poor aircraft design: When the aircraft is not designed properly, an inexperienced pilot may not have the training to compensate for the design flaw.

Wrongful Death Claims

A wrongful death claim can be placed by members of the family who received at least 50 percent of their support from the decedent. A lawyer experienced in these types of claims can explain who is eligible to file and what areas of financial recovery are possible. Some of those areas include funeral and burial costs, lost income, and loss of consortium.

Modesto Wrongful Death Lawyer

I’m Ed Smith, a Modesto wrongful death lawyer. The death of a loved one is a tragic experience and more so when it was caused by someone else’s negligence. If you lost a loved one in this way, your family may be able to claim fair compensation for the loss. Call me at (209) 227-1931 for my free and friendly advice. I can also be reached at (800) 404-5400 or through my contact page online.

I am honored to belong to the National Association of Distinguished Counsel. This group recognizes lawyers with a standard of excellence in the practice of law. I also belong to the Million Dollar Forum, which only has members who have won more than one million dollars for a client.

You can find out more information about my law practice by visiting:

Over my 37 years practicing as an injury lawyer, I’ve helped many Modesto residents obtain compensation for their injuries. Some areas I work in are all types of traffic collisions, motorcycle crashes, and pedestrian accidents.

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