SAN DIEGO - The names of the Arizona family of three who died in a plane crash north of Santee were released by the Medical Examiner's Office on Sunday.
65-year-old William "Bill" Stern Jr., his wife, 53-year-old Jennifer Stern and their 19-year-old daughter Katelyn "Katie" Stern were killed as the home-made plane hit a hillside Saturday in the Sycamore Canyon Open Space Preserve, north of Santee. All were from northeast Phoenix.
Longtime neighbor and Stern family friend Jason Vanderhoof said he still cannot believe the news.
"They came out last weekend," Vanderhoof told 10News. "We just saw them two days ago and talked to him about going to Jamaica for a little family vacation... and just so sad to hear."
Vanderhoof says the family was frequently at their beachfront vacation home in Mission Beach. He said Bill Stern was an accomplished pilot who flew back and forth frequently between San Diego and Phoenix.
Outside the family's home in Phoenix, friends of Katie Stern gathered to remember their friend.
"I lost it... like I didn't believe it and I'm still kind of, like, in that dream state where it just doesn't seem real," said friend Kaleigh Boyle.
She spoke to ABC15, 10News' sister station in Phoenix, in glowing terms about her friend Katie and Katie's parents. Now, she is holding on to memories, especially her last communication with Katie.
"I texted her and I just wished her a Merry Christmas and that I loved her and she told me that she loved me and Merry Christmas and that was it," she said.
Vanderhoof says Bill Stern owned a produce company in Phoenix. He also spoke warmly of the Stern family.
"They're great human beings," he said. "Really nice, giving… just nice people."
Ian Gregor, public affairs manager for the Federal Aviation Administration, said the single-engine Lancair IV-P – which took off from Montgomery Field and was headed to Deer Valley Airport in Phoenix – crashed under unknown circumstances around 10:15 a.m. about 3 miles north of Santee.
A hiker in the uninhabited area witnessed the small plane going down, and said it looked like the plane may have been doing stunts.
A sheriff's helicopter was sent out and found the crash site in remote Sycamore Canyon, west of state Route 67 off Slaughterhouse Canyon Road and east of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
The incident was being investigated by the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board.
Gregor said the NTSB investigator usually posts a basic preliminary report on the agency's website, www.ntsb.gov, within a week or two of an accident, though it typically takes months to come up with a probable cause for accidents.