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UPDATED Pilot in fatal Alameda plane crash identified

Submitted by on 1, April 4, 2011 – 12:03 am2 Comments
Photo by Michael Singman-Aste.

Updated at 9:49 p.m. Tuesday, April 5

The Alameda County Coroner’s Bureau has identified the owner of a vintage, single-engine plane that crashed in Alameda on Sunday as Richard Errol Manuel, 73.

The coroner’s bureau has not yet officially established a cause of death in the crash. An autopsy is scheduled for Monday.

Manuel, a San Mateo County resident, had just taken off from Oakland International Airport on Sunday afternoon when, witnesses said, his engine appeared to cut out. He crashed in the mud off San Leandro Bay, which is adjacent to the Bill Osborne Model Airplane Field on Doolittle Drive.

He was the president of Golden Gate Navioneers, a group of plane enthusiasts who are fans of Navion aircraft. Manuel’s plane was a five-seat, single-engine 1947 Navion A that saw service in the Korean War.

Ken Whittall-Scherfee, a friend of Manuel’s and a past president of the group, said Manuel was an experienced flyer who had owned another plane before purchasing the Navion, in 2007.

“He was a good pilot. I flew with him several times,” Whittall-Scherfee said.

He said Manuel was born in India and joined Britain’s Royal Air Force at 16 as an apprentice. He said Manuel was a self-employed businessman who used the plane frequently to visit family in Southern California. Manuel’s planned destination on Sunday has not been released.

Whittall-Scherfee said Manuel had restored its original Air Force markings and made other upgrades since purchasing the plane.

“It was a nice Navion,” he said. “He had spent a bunch of money on it since he bought it.”

Whittall-Scherfee said Manuel had contacted him a few years ago because he was interested in purchasing a Navion, and that he put the owner in touch with people who helped him buy the plane. He said the plane had originally been used as a “liaison aircraft” to shuttle senior officers during the Korean War.

He said the planes, which were first produced in 1946 by North American Aviation and then by Ryan, were typically sold to civil air patrols or local national guard units before being sold to private owners. About five dozen planes of the same make and model are registered to owners in the U.S., including museums and private corporations, federal records show.

He said Manuel was gregarious and pleasant to be around.

“He was a real nice chap,” Whittall-Scherfee said.

Federal authorities are investigating the crash, and they said a determination regarding its cause could take months.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said the National Transportation Safety Board, which will lead the investigation into the crash, could have a preliminary report on the accident ready in the next week or two. But he said it typically takes the agency months to determine the probable cause of an accident.

Witnesses told local television stations that the plane appeared to have lost power and that its pilot narrowly avoided a collision with picnickers before landing, nose-first, in the banks of the Bay.

Oakland Airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes couldn’t say when the last time was the airport saw a similar incident, though she said this was the first fatal crash she had dealt with in her nine years working at the airport.

The only other Alameda plane crash listed in a federal crash database record was a non-fatal crash that occurred in 1984, when a Cessna 150M crashed. But local residents said a Navy A-7E Corsair II crashed into a Central Avenue apartment building in 1973, killing 11 people, including the pilot of the plane, and destroying the building.

Michael Singman-Aste contributed reporting for this story.


  • Robb Ratto says:


    There was a horific airplane crash in Alameda on February 7, 1973. A Navy A-7E Corsair II crashed into an apartment building at 1814 Central Ave at 8:13 p.m. The crash destroyed the apartment house and a couple other structures and 11 people were killed, including the pilot of the Corsair II.

    I was in high school when it happened and I can remember how terrible it was. What was especially upsetting for me is that my girl friend at the time lived right across the street.

    I’m not sure if an official cause of the crash was every determined (the plane hit the ground at around 650 knots and there wasn’t much left) but there was testimony regarding a possible flaw in the oxygen hose desing that may or may to have caused a fire close to the face of the piolot.

    One additional factoid, the location of the crash was only a couple of blocks away from Alameda High School. I remember looking to the sky any time a plane flew overheard for a number of years after the crash.

    Anyone else who was around when this happened please post your memories of the incident.

    • Cheryl says:

      I too remember this horrific plane crash. I was in 6th grade at the time. I had just gone to bed and remember hearing an extremely loud engine sound overhead. The force of the noise actually shook the house as the plan flew overhead. A few moments later, a loud boom as the plane hit the apartment building. My father was on the police force at that time and he was immediately called into work to respond to the scene along with the rest of the APD that was off duty at the time.

      My mother gathered myself and my siblings and we headed to the home of another police family where we awaited word on what was happening. We children were pretty scared, not knowing the severity of the crash, how many people might have been killed and we worried for the safety of our fathers. Very memorable and sad situation.

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