Plane Crash Victim Identified

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A man from the San Francisco Bay area was killed and his passenger was injured when a small private plane crashed in a meadow just south of the Lake Tahoe Airport.

El Dorado County sheriff's Lt. Les Lovell said it was unclear whether the crash early Sunday occurred as the single-engine Piper aircraft was taking off or landing.

The pilot, Robert Neil Rollins, 36, of Concord, was pronounced dead at the scene, while his passenger, Rachel Ann Belo, 26, of Brentwood, was flown to a Reno, Nev., hospital in critical condition.

Lovell said it also was unclear whether mechanical problems or high winds contributed to the crash.

Several witnesses at an outdoor flea market across the street from the meadow said the plane came in low over homes before crashing into trees.

Some said it appeared the pilot had tried to steer the plane into the meadow away from the flea market, which was filled with shoppers and vendors.

"If he had kept on going and not crashed where he did, he would have come in straight into the market," witness Sheila Harmon told the Tahoe Daily Tribune.

While licensed pilot Gary Aldridge didn't see the plane go down, he said he did hear the engine "sputtering" in distress before it crashed. "There was something wrong with it," he told the Tribune.

The cause of the accident is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and the sheriff's coroner's unit.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)