On Monday, December 27, 2021, a Learjet 35A operated by Aeromedevac Air Ambulance crashed in El Cajon, California, killing all four individuals on board. Media outlets have identified the victims as Tina Ward and Laurie Gentz, who worked as Aeromedevac flight nurses, and pilots Julian Jorge Bugaj and Douglas James Grande.
Authorities say the fatal crash happened at around 7:15 p.m. local time as the plane was approaching Gillespie Field Airport, a county-owned airport northeast of San Diego.
The four-person medical flight crew had spent part of the day transporting a patient from Arizona to Orange County. After completing the flight, the crew departed from John Wayne Airport in Orange County, bound for Gillespie Field in El Cajon as the final destination.
According to radio communications, the pilot canceled an instrument flight rules (IFR) approach to Gillespie Field Runway 17 and instead requested an approach to Runway 27 using visual flight rules (VFR). Air traffic control granted the pilot’s request, and after some instructions, the pilot asked ATC to turn the runway lights up. ATC responded to the request by saying the lights were operating at 100%.
Seconds later, the 10-seater Learjet 35 with tail number N880Z slammed into a power line and crashed in a residential area near Pepper Drive and North 2nd Street. The plane exploded on impact.
Aeromedevac Crash Victims Include Flight Nurses and Pilots
Authorities have identified the four victims as Tina Ward and Laurie Gentz, who worked as flight nurses for Aeromedevac, and pilots Julian Jorge Bugaj and Douglas James Grande.
Tina Ward was the wife of Jim Ward, who recently retired as the Fire Department Deputy Chief for the nearby city of Oceanside. She had previously worked as an emergency room nurse at Palomar Pomerado Health. Tina and Jim Ward had been married for over a decade and had three daughters together.
Laurie Gentz was a nurse with more than 30 years of experience, including more than 25 years working in critical care transport in the air and on the ground. Aeromedevac had recently hired her as a part-time flight nurse in February. According to the Daily Mail, Gentz also served as her local International Association of EMTs and Paramedics union president.
Julian Jorge Bugaj went by his middle name, Jorge. A passionate aviator with a lifelong love of flying, Bugaj was a certified flight instructor who spent the last few years flying planes for Aeromedevac. He is survived by his wife, children, and grandchildren.
Douglas James Grande had worked as a pilot at Aeromedevac Air Ambulance for nearly three years. He served as both a first officer and flight captain. Before joining Aeromedevac, he spent 17 years working for an aviation manufacturing company.
Learjet Plane Crash Statistics
Learjet planes are generally regarded as reliable workhorses. Corporations favor them in their business fleets, as do air ambulance companies and governments for military support missions.
One of the company’s most infamous incidents was the 1999 Learjet plane crash that killed professional golfer Payne Stewart and five others. That crash involved a sudden loss of pressurization, which caused the pilots to lose consciousness. The Learjet 35 continued to fly for hours until it ran out of fuel and crashed in South Dakota.
According to government statistics, the Learjet 35 model has been involved in over 100 accidents, including at least 39 that caused deaths. More than 50 people have died in Learjet 35 crashes.
What Caused the San Diego Plane Crash?
Authorities from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will investigate the cause of the San Diego plane crash. Typically, plane crash investigations take between 12 and 18 months to complete. Once NTSB completes its investigation, the agency will issue a final report with the crash's cause (or causes) and outline any relevant safety recommendations to deter similar accidents.
Veteran aviation attorney Ronald L. M. Goldman from the law firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman has decades of experience handling plane crash cases. According to Goldman, crash investigators will examine what is left of the wreckage for any clues pointing to possible mechanical failure, read over the Learjet’s maintenance records for anomalies, and analyze the actions of the pilot leading up to the fatal crash.
Goldman believes that one of the first questions that investigators need to answer is what prompted the pilot to ask ATC to change runways and approach using VFR, which relies on what the pilot can see rather than flight navigation instruments. At the time of the crash, weather reports showed "fog/mist" in the area, which may have compromised visibility.
Aviation Accident Attorneys with Track Record of Success in Medical Plane Crash Lawsuits
The aviation attorneys from Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman have a proven track record of success in cases stemming from medical plane crashes and air ambulance accidents. We have secured justice and compensation on behalf of victims in the following cases:
- Beech E-90 Guardian Air Transport medical plane crash in Flagstaff, Arizona – Our aviation litigation team successfully represented clients in a lawsuit stemming from a medical plane crash.
- Medical plane crash in a remote part of Camp Pendleton, California – Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman successfully represented the family of a surgeon killed in this tragedy.
- Mooney M20E medical plane crash in Sinaloa, Mexico – Our firm successfully resolved a personal injury lawsuit on behalf of a doctor and member of the Flying Doctors of Mercy.
We have also successfully litigated numerous cases stemming from medical helicopter crashes. If you would like more information on pursuing an air ambulance accident lawsuit, our litigation team would be more than happy to evaluate your case and answer any questions you may have.