Two Paso Robles men died Saturday morning after the single-engine Piper Cub they were flying crashed shortly after takeoff from a private airfield on Vineyard Drive.
Robert Berg, 82, and John Warren, 66, were the only occupants of the plane that took off at about 10:05 a.m. on a sunny morning and then, witnesses told investigators, suddenly banked to the right and spiraled back down to the ground.
Both men died at the scene, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office said.
The private single-runway airport in Paso Robles is called Oak Country Ranch Airport and is owned by Berg, according to FAA records. The men were in a 1939 Piper J3C-65 plane registered to Berg and his wife, Donna.
Warren was flying the plane, sheriff’s Sgt. David Nottenkamper said.
Gary Corippo, a local pilot, recalled Berg as a generous, kind-hearted man that he met as members of the Estrella Warbird Museum. Berg moved to Paso Robles from Los Angeles about 15 years ago, Corippo said, and helped Donna found the Paso Robles Youth Arts Foundation, which offers free classes to children in art, drama, dance and music.
Berg owned a paint company in Los Angeles, Corippo said, and donated paint for the Estrella Warbird Museum to renovate its facilities at the Paso Robles Airport.
“Bob was a very nice person, a very giving person,” Corippo recalled.
County Supervisor Frank Mecham said he met Bob and Donna Berg in 1998 or so, when he was on the Paso Robles City Council and the couple sought a rezoning to build the Youth Arts Foundation building.
Mecham said Donna was the “firecracker” while Bob served as “the quiet guy behind the scenes” in creating the foundation.
“He was a very kind, very humble, very giving man,” Mecham recalled. “He was a real gentleman.”
Information about Warren was not available Saturday.
FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer said the investigation into the cause of the crash is ongoing with the National Transportation Safety Board serving as the lead agency. The sheriff’s coroner has scheduled autopsies for next week.
While the cause of the crash is unknown, local pilot George Marrett said the old Piper Cubs can be tricky to fly for an inexperienced pilot because the landing wheel is on the tail of the plane rather than the nose.
“They are unstable taxiing and during liftoff and landing because the center of gravity is behind the main tires,” he said. “There are not a lot of pilots in this day and age who are proficient at flying a tailwheel, especially if there is a crosswind.”