.Audio Provided from Fatal Watsonville Plane Collision

Multiple audio files outline the back-and-forth between the two pilots before the crash

The National Transportation Safety Board has begun investigating an Aug. 18 mid-air collision between two airplanes above Watsonville Municipal Airport that killed three people and one dog.

NTSB Airsafety Investigator Fabian Salazar said during an Aug. 19 press conference that the probe into the rare fatal crash at the small Santa Cruz County airport will take anywhere from 12 to 24 months to complete, “depending on the complexities of the investigation.”

However, Salazar said the agency would release a preliminary report on the crash in 14 days.

The Federal Aviation Administration and Textron Aviation Corporation are working with the NTSB on the investigation.

Salazar gave few details about the crash, which claimed the lives of 32-year-old Santa Cruz resident Stuart Camenson, Carl Kruppa, 75 and Nannette Plett-Kruppa, 67, both of Winton, Calif., just before 3pm on Aug. 18. 

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Camenson was a UCSC graduate who went on to work in the university’s IT department. He was also a cast member of Cabrillo Stage’s recent production of Candide.

Lauren Chouinard, a cast member of Cabrillo Stage’s production of Grease and a longtime friend of Camenson, described him as a “one-of-a-kind human being.” 

“He is the embodiment of love, joy and authenticity,” Chouinard wrote to the Candide cast members in a statement shared with GT by Cabrillo Stage.

Chouinard said Candide was Camenson’s first theater experience.

“Whenever we would see each other on our off days, he would smile so huge and tell me about how much he loved everything about performing, from the music to the rehearsal process to all the love he had for his fellow cast and crew,” she wrote. “He told me often, verbatim, that his time with you all changed his life.”

Witnesses say that two planes, a twin-engine Cessna 340 and a smaller, single-engine Cessna 152, clipped wings while the Cessna 340 attempted to land. Kruppa and Plett-Kruppa were in the larger plane, while Camenson flew solo in the Cessna 152. Officials at the scene said a dog was also aboard the Cessna 340.

The three people and the dog were pronounced dead at the scene.

According to witnesses, the smaller plane appeared to flip on its side before crash landing near the beginning of the main runway off Buena Vista Drive near Freedom Boulevard. The other plane continued down the runway and smashed into a grassy field, setting it ablaze before careening into an airplane hangar, which sustained significant damage.

As an “uncontrolled” airport, Watsonville Municipal Airport does not have a control tower that guides air traffic. This means pilots are responsible for communicating with one another over radio frequencies when making approaches to land and while taking off. Salazar said pilots are not required to communicate, and he did not confirm whether Kruppa and Camenson in the Aug. 18 crash did so.

“We are working to get the radio communications that were occurring on that day,” Salazar said.

But multiple audio files posted to LiveATC.net, a website where users share live air traffic recordings, outline the back-and-forth between the two pilots before the crash. According to the audio posted on the website, the larger vessel’s pilot announces that he’s on the final approach for a “straight in” landing. Camenson then announces his presence over the airport, according to the audio.

As Kruppa announces in the recording that he is one mile from the landing strip, Camenson replies that he sees him.

“You’re behind me,” Camenson says. 

A few moments later, he adds: “I’m going to go around then because you’re coming at me pretty quick, man.”

The next person that is audible on the recording announces there has been a collision.

“Everybody, please be advised there has been an accident toward runway 20; please be advised, Watsonville,” the person says.

Airport Director Rayvon Williams, who operates under the direction of the City of Watsonville, said that the addition of a control tower at Watsonville Municipal Airport would not be financially feasible at this time.

“The airspace around Watsonville at this particular time, nor the volume of traffic, would support the cost of bringing a control tower to the field,” Williams said.

According to FAA records, the single-engine Cessna is registered to Monterey Bay Aviation Inc. It is listed on the United Flight Services’ website as available for rent. That business, which operates out of the airport and offers plane rentals and lessons, said in a phone call on Aug. 19 that it had no comment on the crash.

According to FAA records, the larger plane was registered to ALM Holding LLC out of Merced County.

Salazar was unwilling to comment on the planes’ origins.

The last fatal crash involving Watsonville Municipal Airport happened in 2011. Four people died after a plane crashed into nearby Watsonville Community Hospital shortly after taking off.

The airport’s website says the facility is home to 333 aircraft and is used extensively by various businesses.

In addition, the website says Watsonville’s airport is the Tri-County’s—a region encompassing Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties—busiest per number of operations and based aircraft. It supports many activities, including private flying, flight training, ground school, aircraft rental, maintenance, air ambulance, law enforcement aviation, air charter, skydiving and many other aviation-related business concerns.

Williams said that the airport community was still trying to process the crash.

“It’s a small community, and there are people here that are certainly grieving,” he said.

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Tarmo Hannula
Tarmo Hannula has been the lead photographer with The Pajaronian newspaper in Watsonville since 1997. He also reports on a wide range of topics, including police, fire, environment, schools, the arts and events. A fifth generation Californian, Tarmo was born in the Mother Lode of the Sierra (Columbia) and has lived in Santa Cruz County since the late 1970s. He earned a BA from UC Santa Cruz and has traveled to 33 countries.
Tony Nuñez
Tony Nuñez is a longtime member of the Watsonville community who served as Sports Editor of The Pajaronian for five years and three years as Managing Editor. He is a Watsonville High, Cabrillo College and San Jose State University alumnus.
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