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 LinkedIn.com. 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.