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No official cause yet for fatal Fall City plane crash
Sammamish resident John Ciliberti was killed early Tuesday morning when his small plane crashed at the Snoqualmie Falls Golf Course.
Ciliberti was alone in the 1958 Cessna 182, which took off from the nearby Fall City Airport just before 8:15 a.m. A few minutes later, a violent crash tore the wings from the plane, flipped it upside down and threw the pilot nearly 50 feet from the fuselage.
Visiting the site in the early afternoon, Larry LaFevre, president of Fall City Airport Association, where the victim rented space, speculated on foggy conditions that may have caused the crash.
His guess is that Ciliberti experienced spatial disorientation when he flew into dense fog.
“Maybe he was trying to get back to the runway,” he said, adding that he’s seen disoriented pilots attempt the same maneuver “many times.”
Because the airport is small and private, averaging four or fewer take-offs a day, LeFevre said no one files flight plans.
He got word of the crash immediately, he said, when a neighbor to the airport property called him. “He saw the take-off, and then he saw him make a right turn right over his head,” LeFevre reported. The neighbor said the plane then turned left and then he heard “a crunching sound.”
The course supervisor had been working outside when the accident happened, and he heard the plane before he saw it.
“The fog was down to 50 feet or something like that,” he said, and when he heard the plane, “I thought it was one of those biplanes, practicing for SeaFair.”
Holding his palms horizontal, stacked less than a foot apart, he added “His wheels were about this far off the ground when I saw him, then boom.”
About 20 golfers were playing, but none were near the ninth fairway. There were no other injuries.
“We’re very lucky that nobody was on nine,” said course golf pro David Doty. “We were just about to start a ladies tournament at 8:30.”
Ciliberti was a former medical director at Overlake Hospital. His wife, Molly, told the Record in a statement that her husband had taken off under visual flight rules, and was flying to Harvey Field in Snohomish. He had been a pilot for 10 years.
“He was a meticulous man… a careful pilot who carefully checked his plane and would never have taken off in fog, no matter what,” Molly Ciliberti stated.
She emphasized that her husband was an emergency physician, and would never have willingly endangered others. “He always said anything can wait and wasn’t worth dying for.”
Just before noon, representatives of the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration arrived and took over the scene from the King County Sheriff’s officers.
The golf course was closed immediately after the crash. NTSB and FAA investigators began work at the site, debris was taken away, and the course stayed closed for the day.
Federal officials have not offered a possible cause of the crash, and the investigation could be long.
NTSB investigator Tom Little told the Record on July 15 that a preliminary report has been filed, but a probable cause is months away.
Ciliberti grew up in upstate New York and lived in Sammamish for the past 13 years. A memorial is planned for August.
“Jack cannot be summed up in a paragraph,” stated his wife. “He was kind, gentle and generous. He was an environmentalist before we even knew the word. His greatest pride was his family, his children and grandchildren, and he loved them and his friends with an open heart and unconditional love.
“He was a giver and he asked so little of life,” she wrote. “There is a hole in the hearts of those who love him that cannot be healed.”