Pilot had plenty of experience, friends say

Three Tesla Motors employees killed in East Palo Alto crash Wednesday

Doug Bourn, 56, is being described as a "very thorough pilot" who had thousands of hours of flight experience, according to longtime friend Elizabeth Houck, who once flew with him in the same Cessna twin-engine plane that crashed Wednesday into an East Palo Alto neighborhood.

"He was very comfortable behind the wheel," she said. "He knew motors, engines, air and oil."

She was "extremely comfortable" flying with him, she added.

Tesla Motors of Palo Alto confirmed Wednesday that three of its employees were killed in a small-plane crash in East Palo Alto.

"Tesla is a small, tightly knit company, and this is a tragic day for us," said Elon Musk, CEO of the electric-vehicle manufacturer.

He declined to name the employees, saying that the company was working with authorities to notify the families.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with them," Musk said.

Sources close to the company identified the three men as Bourn, a senior electrical engineer; Andrew Ingram, an engineer; and Brian Finn, a senior manager.

Houck considered Bourn a good friend, calling him "an outdoor adventureman with a zest for life. … He was a real life enthusiast."

Bourn also was revered by members of the robotics team at Castilleja School, where he had volunteered his time as a mentor for the past six years.

"My daughter is studying what she's studying in college because of the commitment of people like Doug," Castilleja parent Beth O'Malley said Thursday. Her daughter, Erin, is studying biotechnology at Rice University.

O'Malley said Bourn had offered to take her and her husband flying several times, although they never went.

"I always felt like if there was anybody I would trust (flying) it would be Doug," she said.

Bourn even traveled with the Castilleja team to robotics competitions.

"He made the time," O'Malley said. "He really forced the girls to take the time to understand the physics of the problem, and he gave the girls a lot of room to fail -- to learn and to fail.

"He didn't stand there and tell them how to do it. He'd make suggestions, but ultimately it was their decision how to build the robot and how they would enter the competition.

"He just knew when to insert himself and when to hang back," O'Malley said.

Bourn began volunteering at Castilleja with several other colleagues when they all worked at IDEO.

Bourn enjoyed motorcycles and was a member of a beer club. He would often go to Devil's Canyon Brewery in Belmont on the last Friday of each month with co-workers, Houck said.

"It's really sad for Tesla. He was instrumental in getting the Roadster out the door" and was developing the Model S, she said.

A highly detailed oriented engineer, he worked on batteries and electrical systems for the company.

Vicky Tuite, a friend and former colleague at Tesla, said Bourn had come to her birthday party last month.

"He was a great guy," Tuite said, adding that he worked on the first powertrain for the Tesla Roadster.

"He was one of the original handful of people to work for Tesla," she said.

Tuite, whose husband is an amateur pilot, said she would not have hesitated to fly with Bourn.

Bourn held commercial pilot, instrument, multi-engine, ground instructor and single/multi-engine flight instructor ratings, according to a biography posted on the American Society of Mechanical Engineers website before a talk he gave in 2007. The bio noted he enjoyed "motorcycling, skydiving, flying, and teaching others how to fly."

Bourn had filed a flight plan indicating the trio was headed for Hawthorne Municipal Airport in Los Angeles County, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Fog limited visibility to only one-eighth of a mile, but the flight plan indicated the plane would be on instrument takeoff, and records indicate the instruments were in use, investigators said.

Bourn graduated from Stanford University with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering. He worked for IDEO of Palo Alto as a senior engineer from 1995 to 2005, his former employer confirmed.

"We are all deeply saddened, but we can't comment beyond that," an IDEO official said this morning.

Finn had worked for Tesla for a year and 8 months, according to his profile on He received his bachelor's and master's degrees from Northern Illinois University in 1990 and 1992, respectively. He previously worked for Volkswagen Electronics and Volkswagen of America.

He enjoyed gardening, cycling, skiing and playing the guitar, his profile stated.

Ingram, a 2001 Harvey Mudd College graduate, previously worked for Dolby Laboratories and Christie, Parker and Hale.

The Cessna 310R crashed shortly before 8 a.m. Wednesday in East Palo Alto. It took off from the Palo Alto Airport but took a sudden left turn on ascent.

Its wing clipped a power line, hit a PG&E tower and fell into a home, setting the house on fire, according to officials. Its engine and landing gear crashed into an adjacent home, and its fuselage came to rest on a sidewalk after hitting a retaining wall and plowing into two cars, which caught on fire.

No one on the ground was killed, but the owner of the preschool that the wing had hit was taken to the hospital on account of the stress, witnesses said.

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Like this comment
Posted by In MidTown
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 18, 2010 at 10:26 am

Oh, how very sad that this happened. The power outage was a surprise, but the loss of three very talented and intelligent people cannot be replaced.

Thank you PA Online for reporting this so timely.

Like this comment
Posted by Mr. Ironic
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 18, 2010 at 10:29 am

RIP Brian dam dude just hada baby he was a good dude.
Dam thats hard.

Like this comment
Posted by narnia
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 18, 2010 at 1:55 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Like this comment
Posted by The Real Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 18, 2010 at 2:17 pm

I am glad to see that Narnia has conducted an investigation and uncovered all the facts regarding the crash.
I guess the Feds are wasting their time:
Web Link

It looks like Narnia has worked quickly--he/she has determined that there were no mechanical problems with the plane, what exactly the weather was at time of takeoff. She has also interviewed the people who's home was destroyed and figured out how much they have lost.
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

So it looks like the conclusion is that it was all the pilot's fault.
End of story

Like this comment
Posted by jo
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 18, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Best post I have seen you make TRS, thank you for pointing out that ignorance.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 18, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Based on my 26 hours logged, I know that takeoff and climbout are the same with or without outside visibility. A mechanical failure or pilot incapacity would have the same consequences VFR or IR. Twin rated pilots are routinely tested for reaction to engine failure in all attitudes. In other words, a takeoff under the conditions was routine, no riskier than any other maneuver at that altitude.

Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 18, 2010 at 3:33 pm

The SJMerc says: "When the Cessna took off, 16 Southwest Airlines flights out of Mineta San Jose International Airport already had been canceled because of the fog." The same story says that people in the neighborhood had very poor visibility even at ground level.

If you have information that Mr Bourn was pressured by Tesla or his fellow employees to fly out into a thick fog, you should present it to the authorities. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Like this comment
Posted by The Real Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 18, 2010 at 3:39 pm

I think we need to wait until theinvestigation is completed and a report is issued before we go around making claims and assigning blame.

Like this comment
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 18, 2010 at 4:31 pm

I knew Doug Bourn. He hired me in 1984 into Telebit where he was a hardware engineering manager. I worked for him or with him for a number of years before he left the company.

More recently, a couple years back, my daughter and I bumped into him in the airport shop, and we chatted for a while catching up. That was the last time I saw him.

If he was to offer me another job today working with him I would be giving my notice tomorrow.

What I knew of him was that he was very bright, very careful, not given to rash actions. He was a good guy, and he would be one of the few I would feel comforable climbing into a plane with.

Knowing that he was the one at the controls makes me feel even more that this was probably a mechanical failure in the plane or a sudden health issue with him, not an irresponsible or careless action on his part, that just was no the way he was.

I am very saddened to learn that a friend of mine has passed like this.

Like this comment
Posted by Liberty
a resident of University South
on Feb 18, 2010 at 4:41 pm

Every expert I’ve spoken with says that it is likely that the fog had very little to do with what happened. And further, that the fog that morning would not have been a significant factor in deciding whether or not to fly, especially in that particular plane with such an experienced pilot.

I don’t know much about flights out of SJC being canceled, but I imagine that’s has more to do with multiple jumbo jets flying in and out on a tight schedule.

Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 18, 2010 at 4:42 pm

KGO Radio 4PM Newscast featured EPA's "shotspotter" technology recording of terrorized screams of those on the ground who - thankfully - barely escaped tragedy; no indication of engine malfunction according to commentators. So what happened? All we know is it was extraordinarily foggy and the pilot went to the left over EPA instead of to the right over the bay. I don't call this episode a reassuring story about PA airport operations.

Like this comment
Posted by narnia
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 18, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Fog (and smoke) disorients people. Even when instrument flying.

In the my previous post, removed by the PAO staff, I lamented those whose lives where thrown upside down through no fault of their own. Apparently, that's now forbidden.
I know they are only east palo altans...but...

Like this comment
Posted by narnia
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 18, 2010 at 5:58 pm

let's all come back to the forum when the FAA issues its conclusions.
Most crashes are caused by human error and none of us is immune to that. Also, in most crashes a series of combined or sequential events, not just one, contribute to the outcome. In many instances weather is a contributory fact.
I don't know what caused this crash, but I know visibility was poor (and that's statistically a contributory cause).

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 18, 2010 at 9:46 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

In an IFR takeoff, the pilots' head is down and locked on the gauges. That is why they call it Instrument flying.

Like this comment
Posted by Mr. Ironic
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 18, 2010 at 10:06 pm

It was really, really foggy that day I wouldn't want to fly in that.
Brian lived in EPA not to far from the crash. So I doubt any shady doings and they clipped the tower on take off. Thank god nobody on the ground got hurt, I still cant digest this, read that a lot of planes have crashed in the marsh but never EPA. Damn I drive down that street everyday. Almost enrolled my son in the charter school right there, my folks stay nearby. Wow. Again glad everyone on the ground was ok. Glad I left on time for work that day I drive pass there every day. You never think that there is a airport back there. Dam Wow.

Like this comment
Posted by Matt B
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 18, 2010 at 10:16 pm

My wife and I had a chance to fly with Doug a few years ago. He would often come to peets coffee when he was with IDEO and offered to take us up. It was one of the fondest memories I will ever have. we flew to a few places then up the coast to have a late lunch in Halfmoon Bay. His kindness and humbleness will never be forgotten.

matt and christa

Like this comment
Posted by IknowSpecualtionStinksBut
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 19, 2010 at 11:12 am

Just because the departure was IFR does not mean weather could not have contributed to the crash. one possible scenario... engine out shortly after takeoff and he was descending to gain a bit of airspeed prior to adding power on the remaining engine and returning to PAO... in the fog, he would have had no way of seeing the power lines even if he knew exactly how close to the ground he was from his altimeter. Also, there is no way he clipped the tower on takeoff due to simple pilot error... the Dumbarton Left departure which he was most likely on turns right shortly after takeoff before continuing over the marshes to the bridge... something most decidedly went wrong right after wheels up that caused the turn left... leave it up to the NTSB to determine what.

Like this comment
Posted by NotSpeculating
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 19, 2010 at 11:38 am

Listen to the crash audio. Both engines were running at TO power.

Like this comment
Posted by IknowSpecualtionStinksBut
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 19, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Sounds like two engines to me as well, but i'm certainly no expert in aircraft identification by sound (much less how many engines are operating, and at what power level!)

One thing is certain... something went terribly wrong shortly after liftoff, as the tower they hit is only about 2000ft from the end of the runway... the debris was scattered nearly that distance. The tower was left of runway heading, the Dumbarton Left departure has an initial right turn. The towers are maybe 50ft tall. Going the wrong direction and not gaining altitude. at least one critical system was non-functioning (possibly the pilot).

Like this comment
Posted by IknowSpecualtionStinksBut
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 19, 2010 at 3:11 pm

whatever happened, happened very quickly... assuming a mid field rotation, that flight lasted about 20 seconds, and the aircraft never got above a few hundred feet. no room for error when something goes wrong that close to the ground.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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