The flight that originated from Fresno's Chandler Airfield, crashed just before 10 p.m. Saturday night. Investigators say it went down three minutes after taking off from the South Lake Tahoe Airport. Harold and Kin Cardwell are among the victims. Friends say they were returning to the Valley after a dinner date when the plane crashed. Sunday night federal investigators were sifting through the debris, as they work to figure out whether it was mechanical failure or pilot error.
Friends say Francisco Delamora has flown for more than a decade. Family members say he was onboard with his wife, their young daughter and two good friends. They left for a fun night out that ended in a fiery crash.
Frank Ruiz was one of the last people who saw Francisco Delamora moments before he flew to South Lake Tahoe for dinner Saturday night. He says Delamora fueled up and asked a few questions about flying into an airport he never had before.
"I just suggested to him to be careful on takeoff," said Ruiz.
Ruiz says Delamora has three planes, but took his Piper PA32 aircraft that seats seven. According to Ruiz, Delamora owns a successful trucking company and flies often as a hobby.
That passion is where he met his friend, Harold Cardwell, who was also a pilot. Friends say Cardwell and his wife Kin were also aboard the fatal flight. Federal investigators are now examining what's left of the wreckage.
When the plane crashed, it ignited an intense fire that not only engulfed the plane, it also sparked a brush fire. Local investigators say witnesses noticed what seemed like engine problems about 20 seconds before the plane went down.
"Some witnesses saw it attempt to turn and then dip and crashed and on impact, burst into flames," said Pete Van Arnum with the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office.
Ruiz has many questions surrounding the crash. He worked on the plane and says it's properly maintained and in good condition. "I don't know if he fueled or not, if he did, he probably over-grossed. He fueled here, he didn't really need to fuel, so I don't know if he fueled or not. The sales tickets will tell that and now we're just guessing."
Neighbors who live in the South Lake Tahoe area near the crash site described the explosive scene.
"I Looked out the window and there was immediately a huge fireball," said witness Tom Makris, "We then all watched as probably 25 or 30 emergency vehicles showed up over the next half hour."
Friends say Harold Cardwell was always the life of the party who loved to sing karaoke. His wife, Kin was a ballroom dancer who was genuine and caring to everyone she met.
Officials say weather conditions Saturday night were clear, there was no wind and it was a warm evening. Federal investigators say it could take up to 6 months for the final crash report to be released.