Cessna Crashes into Ocean after Carlsbad Takeoff

CARLSBAD -- A private plane carrying three members of an Arizona family crashed into the Pacific Ocean yesterday just after taking off from McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad.

Two bodies, identified by a relative as Sharon Kochert, 59, and her daughter, Alexandria Meekcoms, 25, were recovered by commercial boats about two miles offshore. Kochert's husband, Leroy "Lee" Kochert, 70, believed to be the pilot of the plane, was still missing when authorities called off their search about 6 p.m.

Nichole Burgan of Carlsbad said yesterday that her mother, stepfather and sister had flown from their Arizona homes to see Burgan's newborn son. During their visit, the family and friends talked about death.

"Most of them said they wanted to die peacefully, in their sleep. All except my mother. My mother said she wanted to go in a big way," said a tearful Burgan.

She dropped off the trio at the Carlsbad airport shortly after 9 a.m. so they could fly home to the Phoenix area. Officials said the single-engine Cessna crashed minutes after its 9:45 a.m. takeoff.

Airport spokesman Bill Polick said the pilot radioed "some kind of a catastrophic event" moments after takeoff to air traffic controllers.

Crew members of a commercial boat, the Horizon, saw the plane go down and radioed in the initial report, Coast Guard spokeswoman Petty Officer First Class Anastasia Devlin said. Within minutes, nine other commercial and private vessels were helping a Coast Guard cutter and helicopter search the crash site of about one square mile, Devlin said.

Burgan said the three had flown in to see her 5-week-old son, Kaj, at the home Burgan shares with her husband, Erik, and 10-year-old daughter, Taliyah. She took a cellular phone photo of the trio when they deplaned at the airport on Saturday and first held her baby.

Leroy Kochert was a retired dentist and his wife was his former dental assistant. Meekcoms was a former English teacher who attended Purdue University and had become a personal trainer and fitness model.

Burgan described her parents as an adventurous couple who loved to travel, saying Kochert had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and her mother had been learning to fly. They had just returned last winter from two years of sailing their 42-foot boat around Australia and loved the country so much they considered moving there.

Burgan said that while they were gone, Kochert leased out his private four-seater plane and this spring had spent the last few weeks getting himself recertified to fly, and his plane mechanically tuned up.

"He was meticulous about his things, his plane and his boat," she said. She had sailed and flown with him and her mother many times on both.

Investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board were sent to the scene, FAA spokesman Allen Knitzer said. It could take weeks to determine the cause of the crash, he said.

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