Plane crash west of Fresno raises questions
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- When a plane crashed west of Fresno on Super Bowl Sunday, it ended a troubled life, and left a lot of questions.
The plane was stolen. The pilot was Ray Pirro. He was 52 years old. He lived in a mobile home at a trailer court in Tracy. He had family and friends as neighbors.
His brother in law, Johnny Jones told Action News: "It was heartbreaking, I mean you just see him one day and one day you hear that he's gone."
This unusual tragedy started at Buchanan Airfield in Concord. Authorities think Ray Pirro simply hopped over the chain link fence, hotwired a plane and took off. Why? His friend Bill Kaku friend told us Ray had been talking a lot about flying just hours before he took the plane.
"So, he just wanted to go for a flight?"
"Yeah, just simply that," said Jones. "It made me want to go up there with him. If he was able to rent a plane he was talking about it."
Ray Pirro wasn't able to rent a plane because he didn't have a pilot's license. But he knew how to fly, well, sort of.
Back in the 1980's when he had a construction company in Pleasanton, he owned his own plane. He had a student's flying license back then, but it was suspended by the FAA after he crashed and totaled his plane at the Tracy airport. He walked away from the crash but within a few years, his whole life seemed to go into a tailspin.
State Department of Corrections records show that for the next 20 years Ray Pirro was in and out of jail and prison on drug and theft charges. He was last released from prison in 2009, and on parole when he crashed and died.
"Well yeah, he had a past of drug use," said Jones. "But he had just got out of a program he was clean for four to five months at least."
According to the Department of Corrections, Ray Pirro met with his parole officer on February 2nd. He took a drug test, and the results show he passed. But when his body was autopsied on February 6th it was clear Ray Pirro had been flying high.
Fresno County Coroner Dr. David Hadden said he had an extreme dose of methamphetamine in his system. "We discovered high levels of methamphetamine over 25 hundred which suggests he's been using the drug for a long time."
Hadden, a former military flight surgeon says it's amazing Pirro was able to get a plane into the air at all. "That's very scary and we're lucky he landed in a canal and not a housing development."
The nearest homes were half a mile away. Pirro could have been trying to land in a farm field. But hit power lines on the way down. About two hundred homes were without power for hours as a result.
The plane was believed taken from Concord early Saturday morning. The FAA is trying to figure out where it went, and why it crashed.
The owner of the stolen plane, Felix Boston, an insurance agent from Walnut Creek found evidence of Pirro's flight path in the wreckage on the day of the crash, in the form of a store receipt.
"He got a hundred dollars' worth of fast food, junk food at Walmart this morning in Stockton about two o'clock in the morning," said Boston. "In fact there's Cheese Whiz inside that."
Concorde Airport Manager Keith Freitas says while there is security at the airport, nobody really expected a plane to be stolen.
"Very unusual," said Freitas. "You know last year in the United States there was only one stolen aircraft in 2011.
What was Ray Pirro up to? At some point he changed the identification numbers on the plane.
Jimmy Lee of the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office told Action News: "It's still an open case. We have one of our detectives trying to connect the dots and see what we can find out about it."
Pirro's brother in law, Johnny Jones says Ray had some serious health problems and had been reminiscing a lot about the past. The days when he had a business. The days when he had a plane.
"He just always wanted to fly again," said Jones. "He wanted to fly again and maybe it was his way of checking out of this world. It was just his way of ending it he was just tired."
Ray Pirro is survived by his mother and sister. He was divorced and had no children. Funeral services are planned for Friday. The FAA investigation into his mystery flight is not expected to be completed for several weeks.
plane crash, crimetracker, theft, bay area, tracy, fresno, fresno county, fresno northwest, local, gene haagenson
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