1 dies in Nevada County Airport hangar fire; 1 treated for smoke inhalation | TheUnion.com

1 dies in Nevada County Airport hangar fire; 1 treated for smoke inhalation

Smoke billowed into the air Wednesday morning as Rob Casteel drove to the Nevada County Airport.

Spotting the black plumes, Casteel called 911 and pulled into the airport's parking lot just before 8:30 a.m. Then he and some friends approached the hangar fire that authorities say claimed the life of 65-year-old John Pichitino of Nevada City.

"No visible flames," said Casteel, who'd planned to fly that day. "Just black smoke."

Authorities say Pichitino died in a hangar occupied by Sierra Mountain Aviation Inc., 13308 Nevada City Ave., Grass Valley. Two others were in the hangar at the time — a woman who was taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation, and a man who escaped the building.

The cause of the fire is unknown, said Lee Ocker, the airport's manager.

"We just know it started at an aircraft," he said.

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Multiple fire departments responded to the hangar off Loma Rica Drive. Knowing someone was trapped inside, firefighters entered the hangar, quickly found the person and pulled him from the building, authorities said.

"They did CPR when they pulled him out for a while, but the paramedics pronounced him deceased," said Josh Sunde, battalion chief with the Nevada County Consolidated Fire District.

Firefighters were dispatched at 8:36 a.m. to the fire. With the first unit on scene, Sunde arrived about five minutes later.

"We had it knocked down fairly quick — 10 minutes," Sunde said.

Firefighters continued to fight the blaze 30 minutes after arriving. At one point they cut through a portion of the hangar's wall, pulling down the sheeting as smoke issued out.

It's unknown how much damage was done to the hangar's contents, Sunde said.

"Just looking from the outside, it's probably significant," he added. "There were three aircraft in there."

To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email ariquelmy@theunion.com or call 530-477-4239.