By Jennifer Henion
Triplicate staff writer
A small one- or two-passenger private plane crashed in the Lake Earl Wildlife Area yesterday at about 12:40 p.m. near a trail leading to Dead Lake.
The pilot, Gene Petrik, 72, of Gasquet, did not survive the crash. No other people were in the plane.
As of late yesterday, the cause of the crash was not known. At the site of the plane's impact with the ground, it appeared as if the craft dropped down into the wooded area suddenly.
One wing of the plane was lodged in what appeared to be the first tree impacted. About six adjacent trees were splintered by the crash. The plane itself landed wheels-side-up and was significantly crumpled.
"We don't know if it came in upside-down or if it flipped after it hit. The Federal Aviation Administration will probably be able to tell when they get here tomorrow," said state park ranger Kirk Shea yesterday.
Petrik lived in Del Norte County for 43 years. He made a living teaching instrumental and vocal music to students of Pine Grove and Bess Maxwell Elementary Schools for 30 years.
He and his wife, Anne Petrik, made their home on the original homestead of Horace Gasquet, founder of the town of the same name.
Petrik was seen at Crescent Elk Middle School picking up a band instrument only 40 minutes before the plane crash was reported to the sheriff.
Crews of Del Norte County Search and Rescue, Del Norte Ambulance, state park and Del Norte County Sheriff's Department hiked about one mile yesterday on a brush- and log-covered trail to the wreck site.
A chainsaw was used in some spots to clear large dead logs obstructing the path.
A four-foot-wide stream had to be forded using a large tree root that had grown from bank-to-bank. The root was just wide enough for careful foot traffic.
State park employees are stationed at the end of Sand Hill Road which leads to the trail system that winds through the dunes, Dead Lake and Lake Earl area.
State park employees were also manning the wreck site yesterday and throughout the evening to assure nothing was disturbed until investigators arrive.
According to the Sheriff's Department, the crash investigation will be turned over to the National Transportation Safety Board upon the agency's arrival. They are expected to arrive today.