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2 Reported Dead in Plane Crash at Riverside County Solar Plant

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Desert Sunlight from the air in 2011 | Photo: Chris Clarke| KCET

A small fixed-wing aircraft apparently crashed early Monday afternoon in the Riverside County desert west of Blythe, and police spokespeople have informed ReWire that the plane was likely occupied by employees of the company building a solar energy facility near Joshua Tree National Park.

The crash is still under preliminary investigation, but the California Highway Patrol says that it is thought the two occupants of the craft were killed in the crash. Details of the tragedy are sketchy, but Deputy Julio Oseguera of the Riverside County Sheriff's Department told ReWire that the plane was listed as flying for First Solar, which is building the nearby Desert Sunlight solar facility. Oseguera told ReWire that the occupants of the plane are presumed to have been First Solar employees. The victims' names have not been released.

The plane went down between Kaiser Road and Route 177 north of the small town of Desert Center, in the Chuckwalla Valley near the eastern edge of Joshua Tree National Park.

UPDATE: Oseguera has informed ReWire that investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are now en route to the site.

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The solar facility, which First Solar is building for owners Next Era, GE, and Sumitomo, was buffeted by violent rainstorms during the course of the weekend, with roads washed out and power off in much of the Chuckwalla Valley.

This is conjecture on our part, but the plane may have been in the air in an attempt to survey the extent of the damage, if any, that weekend storms did to the solar facility. Sheet floods a foot or more deep hit swathes of the Chuckwalla Valley this weekend after rainstorms generated by Tropical Storm Ivo dumped as much as seven inches of precipitation on the surrounding desert.

We'll fill you in as more details emerge. For now the familiies, friends, and colleagues of the victims are in our thoughts here at ReWire today.

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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