Former TV game show host Peter Tomarken and his wife were killed Monday morning, March 13th, when their small plane crashed in the water about 200 yards off the Santa Monica shore shortly after takeoff, authorities said.
Tomarken, 63, and his wife, Kathleen, 41, who had departed Santa Monica Airport on a volunteer medical transportation flight bound for the San Diego area, were pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics, a county coroner spokeswoman said.
Rescuers continued to search until the evening for a possible third passenger on board the six-seat aircraft, but the search was called off after authorities determined that only two people had been on board.
Tomarken became a TV personality in the 1980s as the host of game shows such as the popular Press Your Luck, which ran from 1983 to 1986.
“On behalf of game show fans and GSN (Game Show Network), we mourn the loss of a wonderful person and one of the great game show hosts of all time, Peter Tomarken,” said Rich Cronin, president and chief executive officer of GSN.
“Our deepest sympathies and condolences go out to his family and friends during this difficult time.”
Tomarken departed Santa Monica Airport with his wife at about 9:30 a.m. for a volunteer mission with Angel Flight West, a nonprofit organization that provides air transportation to needy medical patients, said Bob Trimborn, Santa Monica Airport manager.
Tomarken had leased a space at Santa Monica Airport to park his single-engine airplane, a 1973 Beechcraft A-36 Bonanza, Trimborn said.
The plane was scheduled to fly to Brownfield Airport in the San Diego area to pick up a middle-aged Angel Flight West patient and transport her to the UCLA Medical Center for treatment, said Paul Jacobs, vice chair of the Angel Flight board of directors.
Shortly after takeoff, the plane reportedly experienced engine trouble and began to turn back, airport officials said.
The plane had flown about seven miles northwest of the Santa Monica Airport when Tomarken contacted the airport radio control tower and requested clearance for an emergency landing, Trimborn said.
Airport control tower operators cleared Tomarken to land and cleared the runway for the landing, but the plane never made it back to the airport, he said.
“He was presented with a situation that he had to deal with and he dealt with it as best as he could,” Trimborn said of the pilot attempting the emergency landing.
The plane crashed into Santa Monica Bay at about 9:35 a.m. and was located in 19 feet of water, south of Ocean Park Boulevard in Santa Monica, Los Angeles County Fire Department officials said.
County lifeguards responded to the scene and rescue units from the Coast Guard, the County Sheriff’s Department and the County Fire Department were also called to help search for the victims.
The bodies of Peter and Kathleen Tomarken were found by divers and taken to the county Sheriff’s Department Marina del Rey Station, County Fire Department Captain Mark Savage said.
Some witnesses said they heard the airplane make a “sputtering” noise before it crashed into the water.
Santa Monica resident Luigia Martelloni, who was walking her dog at the time of the crash, said she didn’t see the plane go down but saw the splash as it hit the water.
“I saw a splash and saw the airplane halfway down in the water,” said Martelloni, adding that the plane went under within seconds. “I was thinking, we have to do something. I was really shocked.”
A few hours after the crash, rescuers pulled the mostly intact aircraft out of the 19-foot-deep water and later towed it onto the beach.
National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) officials are investigating the crash and plan to examine the wreckage of the aircraft, as well as review radar data, airplane maintenance records and flight history of the pilot, said NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway.
Tomarken was one of about 1,400 active pilots for Santa Monica-based Angel Flight West, which has flown over 25,000 missions over the last 20 years, Jacobs said.
The Angel Flight pilots fully fund the costs of their missions personally to provide free air service to patients who require a variety of medical treatments, he said.
Tomarken, who had been a member of Angel Flight West for about a year, was very “enthusiastic” about his work with the organization, Jacobs said.
“He had a passion about aviation and wanted to do charitable work, so it was a perfect marriage,” Jacobs said.
Tomarken was born in Olean, New York, in 1942 and after graduating from UCLA, he began his career as an editor at the magazines Women’s Wear Daily and Business Week in New York City, according to a wikipedia.org biography.
He then moved back to California and later received his first TV hosting job in 1983 for Hit Man, a show that lasted only 13 weeks.
Tomarken hosted the hit game show Press Your Luck for three years and also had TV hosting jobs for the shows Bargain Hunters, Wipeout and Paranoia.
He eventually retired from television to work as a real estate agent, according to the wikipedia.org biography.
Tomarken is survived by a son, Jason, and twin daughters, Alexis and Candace, from a previous marriage to Dana Tomarken, according to a www.tv.com biography.