USF Professor Dies in Sonoma Valley Plane Crash

Admin Airplanes, Helicopters

William Sachs Goldman, 38, was killed in a plane crash in Sonoma Valley last Thursday.

Goldman, the grandson of San Francisco philanthropists Richard and Rhoda Goldman, was aboard the plane with his two children and their nanny, who sustained serious injuries. An assistant professor of international studies at the University of San Francisco, Goldman was piloting a single-engine Cirrus SR22 when he crashed in a nearby field two minutes after takeoff from Sonoma Skypark airport at approximately 12:46 p.m. The nanny, Valeria Anselmi of Milan, Italy, and his two young children, George and Marie, were taken to a local hospital.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the incident. Assistant Schell-Vista Fire Chief Mike Mulas said several onlookers had pulled the children from the wreckage before emergency personnel arrived. “All three of the injuries were severe to critical,” Mulas said. “It was just a tragic situation, tragic thing.” The minors were airlifted by helicopter to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, and the nanny was taken by ambulance to Queen of the Valley Hospital in Napa.

There has been no update on their condition.

The Goldman family is well known in area for their philanthropic efforts, including the Goldman Environmental Prize, founded by the victim’s grandparents. The award recognizes individuals who spearhead global environmental initiatives. Winners receive $150,000, the largest prize of its kind, which is known as the “Green Nobel.” The foundation has awarded $700 million to over 2,500 grantees in the past 60 years. Goldman, along with his siblings, started the Richard W. Goldman Family Foundation in 2012 in honor of his father.

Bill Goldman also worked with the New Israel Fund, a New York City-based foundation, which finances civil rights and democracy efforts in Israel, and the Walter and Elise Haas Fund, which promotes economic security, education and the arts in the San Francisco Bay Area. Bill Goldman, who was a descendant of Levi Strauss, inventor of denim jeans in 1873, was born in Washington, D.C, to Richard Goldman and Susan Sachs Goldman. He attended the Sidwell Friends School and graduated from Yale.

He received his master’s and doctoral degrees from UC Berkeley and had been employed by the University of San Francisco since 2012.

University President Paul Fitzgerald issued a statement saying the USF community was “devastated,” remembering him as “an accomplished scholar, a beloved and generous teacher, and a valued member of our community.” Goldman was a choral music and photography enthusiast. He also collaborated with Angel Flight West, an organization that provides air transportation for critically ill patients and their families. The Cirrus aircraft Goldman was flying is outfitted with an emergency parachute system.

A witness believed Goldman had deployed the parachute.

Gina Isi was having lunch on Carneros Oak Lane in Sonoma when she heard the plane takeoff. “It was just at the beginning of its ascent, when I heard it — like it was going to stall,” she said. “It sounded like it choked a little bit, so I was like, ‘Holy cow!’ and then it seemed like it was going to recover, like I heard more revving, and then it just died.” She saw the aircraft disappear behind trees, and then overheard a pop, which she believes was a parachute.”

“He must have deployed it under 200 feet,” Isi said.

“Investigators are focused on documenting the site and any perishable evidence. It could take a year to get to the probable cause of the crash,” said Peter Knudson, a National Transportation Safety Board spokesperson.