EL CAJON, Calif. (KGTV) — The four people who died in an El Cajon plane crash earlier this week were identified.
The San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office website identified the four occupants aboard the Learjet that crashed on Dec. 27 as 68-year-old Laurie Rose Gentz, of Escondido; 52-year-old Christina Elizabeth Ward; 45-year-old Douglas James Grande; and 67-year-old Julian Jorge Bugaj.
According to the Oceanside Fire Department, Ward was the wife of recently retired Deputy Chief Joe Ward.
“As you can imagine, this is the most difficult of times for his family. His immediate family is together with Joe, and they are being supported by friends, the department, the Oceanside Fire Management Association, and the Oceanside Firefighters Association,” the department said in part.
The Oceanside Fire Department said in a statement that Ward was well-known in the department, adding that "words can't convey the hurt and loss the family and many of us feel."
The greater Oceanside Fire Department family has experienced a terrible loss. Tina Ward, wife of recently retired Deputy Chief Joe Ward, was on board and a victim of the fixed wing air medical transport that crashed in Lakeside on Sunday evening December 26, 2021. Joe is known and respected by many in the regional fire service. As you can imagine, this is the most difficult of times for his family. His immediate family is together with Joe, and they are being supported by friends, the department, the Oceanside Fire Management Association, and the Oceanside Firefighters Association.
At the moment, the Ward family is requesting privacy so that they have the opportunity to grieve and process. There have been many offers of assistance, and we will communicate to individuals or organizations if there is a need from the family or OFD. The department hasn’t issued a press release and the official investigation by responsible agencies is ongoing. Much of the information about this incident is on social media and we ask that you please keep this in mind when reading about details.
Tina was well known within the department and words can’t convey the hurt and loss the family and many of us feel. You may take comfort in the fact that the Ward family is surrounded by close family and friends in their time of need, and that they have the wider OFD and fire service family ready to assist them. It is in these moments when we experience the true friendship and support that comes with being in our profession. We thank you, truly.
The Oceanside Firefighters Association 3736 Union also released a statement following the crash:
It is with heavy hearts that the Oceanside Fire Department and their fire family would like to extend our deepest condolences to our recently retired Chief Ward, his family, and all family and friends of the Aeromedevac flight crew N88OZ. Chief Ward’s wife Tina, was a flight nurse on board of the aircraft that crashed last night in El Cajon. We are shocked and saddened by this devastating news and are keeping you all in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time. #OFDSTRONG
Aeromedevac Air Ambulance, the company that owns the plane, shared their condolences after the deadly crash. The company said in part, "the loss of our friends has left us an indescribable void. To both us and their families they are unsung heroes, dedicating their lives to caring for others in need throughout our community."
It is with great sadness that we must share the devastating loss of our colleagues at Aeromedevac Air Ambulance on December 27, 2021. The loss of our friends has left us an indescribable void. To both us and their families they are unsung heroes, dedicating their lives to caring for others in need throughout our community. Our priority now is to support the well-being of the families of all our crew members. We are a close-knit air ambulance program that is united by our missions to care for our patients. Our team’s commitment to helping others has always been inspiring. We are honored and blessed to have worked with the crew members that we have lost, and we extend our heartfelt condolences to their families.
The family of Douglas Grande released a statement on Friday, saying in part, Grande "had a hear of gold and brought joy and happiness to everyone he met.":
"It is very difficult to find the words to describe such an incredible man. Doug had a heart of gold and brought joy and happiness to everyone he met. He was an exceptional husband, father, brother, son and friend. His world revolved around his wife and daughters. He absolutely loved his job as a pilot and found so much joy in helping patients in need. He was wise, thoughtful, funny, patient and kind. Doug will be missed beyond measure."
The investigation into what caused the deadly crash won't be completed for up to two years, as the NTSB works through evidence from the scene to determine what happened.
The crash occurred just after 7 p.m. in the 1200 block of Pepper Dr. in El Cajon, according to the San Diego County Sheriff's Department (SDSO). Four people in total were aboard the flight.
The Federal Aviation Administration said the Learjet 35A business jet departed John Wayne Airport in Orange County and was on its way to Gillespie Field. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the Learjet was on an instrument approach to Runway 17 at Gillespie Field, when the pilot requested a change to a visual approach to Runway 27R.
Shortly after air traffic control cleared the plane to land, the aircraft crashed about 1.4 miles from the approach end of the runway, according to NTSB.
One home and one vehicle were reportedly damaged by debris from the crash, and hundreds of nearby SDG&E customers lost power to their homes.
NTSB investigators plan to have a preliminary report in the next several weeks, with a final report expected in 1 to 2 years. Authorities are asking anyone with photos or video of the crash to email email@example.com.
A GoFundMe page has been established to help Bugaj’s family. Anyone interested in contributing can visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/expenses-memorial-stability for more information.