Darby residents John and Cherril Longhurst perished in a small plane crash Tuesday at an airport in San Diego County, according to a family friend.

Hamilton resident Bob Driggers, the friend and also caretaker of the Longhurst's Montana property, said one of the couple's three adult children called him with news of their deaths.

John Longhurst was a professor of cardiology at the University of California in Irvine and traveled around the world participating in medical symposiums.

Driggers said the couple retired and bought property in Darby in 2006. He and John Longhurst met and became hunting partners in 2008.

“I call him Dr. John,” Driggers said. “He’s a very quiet, sensible man, very knowledgeable in various subjects. He and his father had hunted quite a bit throughout the United Stated in his earlier years, and he was very experienced in hunting and camping out in the backcountry.”

Diggers said John Longhurst’s favorite sport was backcountry fishing and hiking.

“He knew how to survive in the wild,” Driggers said. “He is 72 or 73 and I’m 67. It wasn’t until this year that I felt I could keep up with him. He was in shape for the mountains.”

Driggers said he had flown with Longhurst many times.

“He had dedicated himself to recertify himself as a pilot of small aircraft,” he said. “He went through the recertification process and took on instrument training (IFR).

"Once he qualified to fly solo, he and I were up flying the Westfork trying to find big bulls. My knowledge at that time was that he was very professional going through the check list. He followed all the rules and was conscious of what his abilities were and what they weren’t.”

Driggers said Longhurst was concerned about the weather in returning.

“He called me the night before he left (San Diego) to find out what our weather was going to be,” Driggers said. “I actually texted him the weather predicted for the Bitterroot that morning before he took off.”

Driggers said the original plan was to fly from San Diego County to Elko, Nevada, and spend the night, then the next day fly to Montana.

“It looks like the plane stalled on take-off and I don’t know anything about it but just from hearing the reports the engine started stalling and he tried to return to the airport and didn’t make it,” Driggers said.

He said that he valued his friendship with the Longhursts.

“When they were here they just enjoyed life,” Driggers said. “Cherril was a great lady that everyone loved.”

Two of the Longhursts dogs were with them in the plane. One survived, but Darby, a black and white border collie that traveled everywhere with the couple, was killed in the crash.

No one on the ground was injured.

A witness told The San Diego Union-Tribune that the single-engine, four-seat Cessna 182 Skylane went down about 6:55 a.m. in an industrial lot after taking off from Gillespie Field, heading west. It made some kind of “throttling” noise, and the pilot tried to return to the airport, but lost power and hit the ground nose first, destroying the front of the plane.

The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration were sending investigators to the crash site.

Driggers said the Longhurst family will hold a memorial service in California soon, then another in Montana at a later date.