PETERSEN, William Charles

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Cessna N733VW crashed January 18, 1984
East End, Santa Cruz Island

PETERSEN, William Charles “Pete” (1923-2006) [SS#561-22-6158], native of Nebraska who spent many years on the east end of Santa Cruz Island. In the 1960s, he had worked as a general partner in an oil wildcat drilling operation, Santa Cruz Exploration (SCE). Water rather than oil was struck. In 1977 Petersen returned to the east end of the island to live and work for the Gherini family, owners of the east end. For five years he ran a marginally successful sheep operation.


“Bill Peterson took over the management of the Gherini Ranch in 1979 although he had no experience running a sheep ranch. Peterson hired a number of workers that included Michel Ravenscroft (who later married Peterson), his son, David, who worked previously for the Gherinis from 1972–1975, and Fidel Herrera who started working for the Gherini Ranch in 1975 and continued working for Peterson. The operational agreement between Bill Peterson and the Gherini family gave Peterson the right “to manage and operate a presently existing sheep ranch for the production and sale of wool, lambs and other sheep…” and restricted the use of the Gherini portion of the island “to the operation of a sheep ranch.” The logs then become laced with notations of “no contact” while Peterson ran the ranch. Simply put, Peterson and his workers did not adhere to the required daily communication schedule. The last radio notebook covered a period of nearly four years during which time William Peterson operated the sheep ranch but was remiss in maintaining radio communication. Despite the operational change, Pier Gherini attempted to maintain regular radio contact with the island ranch. ”[Gherini, John Radio Santa Cruz: A Glimpse of Island Ranch Life from 1851 to 1984 (2005)]


In February, 1984, Peterson, also a pilot, along with another passenger survived a plane crash on Santa Cruz Island’s Campo Grande airstrip. Peterson suffered from severe internal injuries, and the crash ended his employment on Santa Cruz Island.

“Bill Peterson’s efforts to run an island sheep ranch abruptly came to end in January 1984, when a plane carrying Peterson and two doctor pilots crashed in the Campo Grande field. The plane, a Cessna 182, attempted to land from west to east with the wind at its tail. The resulting investigation showed that the plane came in too fast, overshot the dirt strip, plowed through a fence and careened down a ravine. The Journal entry for 18 January 1984, the day of the crash, showed “no contact” but Pier Gherini wrote a note: “About p.m. today, Bill Peterson badly injured while riding as passenger in plane trying to land on the Campo Grande Field. ” Plane owned and operated by Gregory Johnson, M.D. and Darrel Davey, M.D. was also a passenger. Taken by helicopter to Oxnard. Petersen in St. Johns Hospital-internal injuries. Both doctors taken to Thousand Oaks Hospital.” Bill Peterson and the two doctors survived the crash. The last entry in the radio log on 15 March 1984, concluded with the notation “no contact.” Sheep ranching on the Gherini Ranch ended with the departure of Bill Peterson, and so did over three decades of Pier Gherini’s succinct, colorful and detailed reporting of events on the island recorded in the radio logs. What is left is the story of the island workers and the ingenuity, skill and adaptability they showed working on a sheep ranch at sea. “KMD83 clearing with KMC83, out.”” [Gherini, John Radio Santa Cruz: A Glimpse of Island Ranch Life from 1851 to 1984 (2005)]


During Petersen's five-year stay at Scorpion Ranch, three decommissioned minesweepers ended up off the east end of the island:


“With the metal pier in disrepair, Bill Peterson utilized lumber barges and other vessels to haul sheep and supplies. The radio journal entries for the 1980s once again show how the island workers solved logistical problems in managing a sheep ranch without a pier. On 24 August 1980 the journal informs the reader that the “lumber barge is ashore and secure.” The log entries of October 1980 reveal for the first time the name of a small landing craft called the Double Eagle that measured 65-feet and could carry 350 sheep. The vessel, built by Bill Peterson, proved useful for island operations because of its ability to land at the beach. For instance, the log notation of 7 October 1980 shows that the Double Eagle “arrived and unloaded tractor on the beach.” On 1 April 1983 Dave Peterson reported that the Double Eagle would land at the beach so that lambs and wool could be shipped.” [Gherini, John Radio Santa Cruz: A Glimpse of Island Ranch Life from 1851 to 1984 (2005)]


“Pete” Petersen = Edna (1925-1991) (first wife)

  • David Norman Petersen (b. 1950)
  • Susan Elaine Petersen (b. 1951)
  • Daniel Ray Petersen (b. 1955)
  • Sherri Lyn Petersen (b. 1957)

They were divorced in 1981.

“Pete” Petersen = [1983] Michel Ravenscroft (second wife)


“Pete” Petersen died on January 6, 2006. He was 82 years old.