Victims of Monday’s plane crash ID’d as 1st Solar engineers

Michael Cyr, Left, and Jeff Randal, victims of the First Solar plane crash Monday | Cyr Photo: First Solar; Randall Photo
Michael Cyr, Left, and Jeff Randal, victims of the First Solar plane crash Monday | Cyr Photo: First Solar; Randall Photo

DESERT CENTER – Two men who died in a plane crash Monday afternoon near the First Solar energy site outside Desert Center were engineers on the Desert Sunlight Solar Project, the chief executive officer for First Solar said in a statement.

Here is the statement from First Solar CEO Jim Hughes:

“The First Solar community was deeply saddened to learn of the deaths of two associates in an accident near the Desert Sunlight Solar Project . . .

“Mike Cyr and Jeff Randall, both civil supervisors at the project, were in a single engine aircraft flying over the project when the airplane crashed near the site. The accident is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. First Solar is cooperating fully with authorities.

“We extend our deepest condolences to Mike and Jeff’s families and loved ones. We are in contact with the families, and are providing our support in this difficult time.”

The Riverside County coroner confirmed their identities in an update Wednesday.

Cyr, 41, of Blythe, was the pilot, and Randall, 35, of Blythe, was his passenger. The registered owner of the crashed plane, a 1971 model Grumman AA-1A Yankee, is identified in FAA records as Michael C. Cyr of Blythe.

Cyr, a graduate of Palo Verde High School, joined First Solar in September 2009 as a supervisor during installation of a 21-megawatt photovoltaic project near Blythe. He joined the Desert Sunlight project as Assistant Construction Site Manager in September 2011 after a stint working on a 48-megawatt First Solar project in Boulder City, NV. Cyr had also worked with Cyr Aviation in Blythe, a family business mainly involved in crop dusting, and had maintained Commercial and Multi Engine Instrument ratings with the FAA since 1998.

Randall, a Desert Center resident, had worked for First Solar since September 2011 as a site supervisor on the Desert Sunlight project. He’d previously worked in supervisorial roles on a range of heavy construction roles on projects ranging from installation of the border fence to the demoltion of the Mulholland Bridge for the Sepulveda Pass 405 widening project.

At 1:26 p.m. Aug. 26, a Colorado River Station deputy and a Bureau of Land Management ranger were patrolling the Desert Center area “when they witnessed a small plane flying out of control and crash . . . east of Kaiser Road between Lake Tamarisk and the First Solar energy site,” sheriff’s Sgt. Thomas Velarde said in a statement.

The crashed plane was moved Tuesday to an undisclosed location, where an NTSB investigator was to begin examining it Wednesday, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board said.

“We will be reviewing the crew’s flying history, log books, medical records and maintenance records of the aircraft,” Keith Holloway of the NTSB said in an email following a phone interview. “We are collecting information regarding the purpose of flight.”

Weather in the Coachella Valley on Monday was nothing like Sunday, when monsoonal thunderstorms and remnants of Tropical Storm Ivo unleashed widespread flash flooding across the region.

On Saturday, a microburst in the Lake Tamarisk area downed more than 50 power poles as well as powerlines on Kaiser Road, according to Cal Fire-Riverside County. About 20 First Solar facility employees sheltered in place at the solar plant until roadways were cleared to safely remove them from the area. No injuries were reported.

There may have been drizzle or light rain at times Monday in the Desert Center area, but conditions were not as volatile as Sunday, said Deputy Julio Oseguera of the sheriff’s Palm Desert Station.

First Solar is building the 550 megawatt Desert Sunlight Solar Farm, which is co-owned by NextEra Energy Resources, GE Energy Financial Services, and Sumitomo Corporation of America, according to the company’s website.

The project is located on land managed by the Federal Bureau of Land Management, about six miles north of Desert Center.

The Desert Sunlight farm will provide enough energy to serve about 160,000 average California homes, displacing an estimated 300,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year - equivalent to taking about 60,000 cars off the road, according to First Solar officials.

Construction on the project began in September 2011, and the facility is expected to be fully operational by 2015, according to First Solar.