Officials have confirmed with ABC7 News the couple, Karen and Steven Lefton were headed to Palo Alto Airport when their single-engine, fixed-winged, private plane crashed less than a mile from the Lake Tahoe Airport.
"Numerous reports we received that the plane was having difficulty, seemed to be dropping in altitude," said El Dorado County Sherriff Lt. Pete Van Arnum.
Witnesses describe seeing the plane take off and head north before it banked right and slammed into a wooded area less than a mile from Lake Tahoe Airport.
"The plane flipped when it hit the trees coming in. There was a lot of gasoline leaking out of the ruptured fuel tanks," said Arnum.
Lefton, 67, had been flying for more than 20 years. He died on impact, but his wife, Karen, survived the crash. She was pinned beneath debris and was given first aid by a nurse who witnessed the crash and comforted her until first responders could arrive. Karen was taken to a hospital in Reno and is expected to survive her injuries.
"You can never take flying for granted," said pilot Steve Mohn, who flies out of the Palo Alto Airport.
Mohn says experience can only take you so far. He told us being prepared for the unexpected is essential and according to him the Lake Tahoe Airport is one of the trickiest airports in the region to navigate.
"Since it has a high altitude there, there's a spiral route to come in and out of the airport because of the Sierras right there," said Mohn.
Officials confirmed the couple was flying back to Palo Alto Airport after spending a weekend in Tahoe with their daughter and other family members.
Now the FAA and NTSB will investigate what caused the plane to crash -- it's a process that could take months.