El Centro Veterinarian was only one aboard; US copter finds wreckage strewn in desert
TUCSON – Sgt. Costaki C. Manoleas of the Pima County Sheriff’s Department inspects the crash scene in a remote part of Avra Valley, about 45 miles northwest of Tucson. “That plane hit the ground hard,” said Deputy Tom Peine, a Sheriff’s Department spokesman.
A single-engine plane crashed northwest of Tucson Sunday night, killing the pilot, a veterinarian who was flying back to California.
The pilot was identified as James Lloyd Thompson, 57, from El Centro, said Deputy Tom Peine, a Pima County Sheriff’s Department spokesman.
No one else was in the plane – a Piper Model PA-28-151 – when it crashed in a remote part of Avra Valley, Peine said.
Thompson was the owner of El Centro Animal Clinic. He was a beloved veterinarian in the valley, and although he was a small animal doctor, many equestrians appreciated his willingness to make emergency house calls to ailing horses and other large animals.
He was a friend to 4-H and FFA kids, helping them nurse ailing animals back to health.
Wes Earls, a local ferrier, had just seen Dr. Thompson last week at Happy Valley , a horse stable he manages. “We just talked about everything, as if we would always be able to visit. I’m really going to miss him. He was a great guy.”
Between 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. the Federal Aviation Administration lost radar contact with the plane and contacted U.S. Customs and Border Protection to start a search via a Black Hawk helicopter.
The Sheriff’s Department was alerted just before 10 p.m. that the plane had been found in a rugged area about 45 miles outside of Tucson, Peine said.
It was about four miles south of West Avra Valley Road and Agua Dulce Ranch Road.
“That plane hit the ground hard,” Peine said.
Investigators learned that Thompson had dropped off family members in Las Cruces, N.M., and then stopped over in Benson on his way back to El Centro.
Peine said Thompson had planned to fly from Benson directly to El Centro.
Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board and the FAA are investigating the crash, Peine said.