Claremont, Pomona residents killed in plane crash

A Claremont man died in a fiery plane crash that ignited a devastating brush fire in the Tehachapi area south of Bakersfield on Sunday, September 4.

55-year-old John Nuckolls was killed along with 72-year old Walter Johnson of Pomona when the small plane Mr. Johnson was piloting fatally crashed into Blackburn Canyon.  

Mr. Nuckolls was the co-owner of Iron Works Gym located at the corner of Foothill and Claremont Boulevards.

Claremont resident Scott Gorman, a captain of the Glendora-based Dalton Hotshots, received a call about a brush fire shortly after 1 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. When he reached Tehachapi a few hours later he described the scene as complete bedlam.

“There wasn’t really a lot of time to reflect there was so much fire and chaos,” Captain Gorman said describing the flames that swept nearly 14,000 acres and more than 5 miles of Blackburn Canyon. About 100 homes were evacuated and 400 firefighters called to battle the blaze, according to the Associated Press.

When Captain Gorman reached the site of the crash 45 minutes later, he said that little to no evidence was left of the plane.

“It was just totally wrecked,” Captain Gorman said, who noted that there was hardly any other damage done to the surrounding area from the plane’s fall. ”It looked almost as if the plane had landed straight down. It didn’t even appear like it had tried to land. There were no trees down or damaged… just the remains of the plane.”

Captain Gorman knew there had been a fatality, but it wasn’t until he later spoke with his wife, Sarah, that he discovered a fellow Claremonter was involved in the crash.

CT Terrell, co-owner of Iron Works Gym along with Mr. Nuckolls, claims he is still in shock over the incident, though trying to stay busy with work. Mr. Terrell received a call Sunday afternoon from Mr. Nuckolls’s son Paul sharing the devastating news.

“I just kind of froze up,” Mr. Terrell said. “I couldn’t believe it. It still doesn’t feel like he’s gone.”

Mr. Nuckolls has been a father figure for Mr. Terell, whose own father died when he was 18. Mr. Terell fondly remembers Mr. Nuckolls’s yelling in the stands while Mr. Terrell and his son, Paul, were playing football at El Roble Intermediate School and Claremont High School.

Though Mr. Terell jokes that Mr. Nuckolls had a stubborn streak and a constant need to be right, he was loved for being a happy-go-lucky guy who always had a smile on his face and a hand to help.

“He used to open the gym at 4:30 a.m., and I remember one day around 2 or 3 p.m. he was getting ready to leave and one of the gym members was having difficulties with his 1980 Toyota Pickup. He went out into the parking lot and helped with the truck, and took the member to Pep Boys. I remember him walking into the gym around 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. all dirty,” Mr. Terell laughed. “He was always willing to help.”

Mr. Nuckolls leaves behind his wife, Jaye, along with children Paul, Tiffany, Justin, Jamie, and John, Jr.

A memorial service will be held for Mr. Nuckolls on Saturday, Sept. 17. A location and time have yet to been determined.

—Beth Hartnett


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