RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — Three people died and two were critically injured when a small plane carrying them home from a cheerleading competition slammed into two California homes and started a raging fire, authorities and witnesses said.
The twin-engine plane with five occupants crashed late Monday afternoon in a Riverside neighborhood after taking off from a nearby airport and making it less than a mile, Riverside Fire Chief Michael Moore said. It was bound for San Jose.
One of the adult survivors suffered burns on 90 percent of her body and was found under debris in a smoke-filled bedroom of a burning home, Riverside Fire Capt. Tyler Reynolds said Tuesday.
“She was moaning and that is how the firefighters found her,” he said.
Three witnesses told TV stations that one survivor crawled from the home asking for help and was able to talk to firefighters about what had happened as she was taken to a hospital.
The coroner’s office removed the remains of an adult woman, adult man and a female teenager from the wreckage that was still smoldering Tuesday morning.
The impact destroyed two houses and sent plane parts flying down the block of single-family homes. One of the survivors was thrown from a back seat of the plane, and a propeller landed on a rooftop.
“It’s unrecognizable, really, as a plane,” police Officer Ryan Railsback said, adding it was remarkable that no one on the ground was hurt.
One of the houses hit by the plane was empty at the time and a man escaped a neighboring home without suffering injuries.
Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board will try to determine what occurred in the minutes after takeoff.
Juan Cortes, 42, was installing fencing with his son a few blocks away when they saw a low-flying plane make an awkward tilt and go straight down. Moments later, they said they saw smoke and knew it was a crash.
He said people were screaming in the street and he saw a woman pulled from the wreckage.
“She was alive because she was screaming, `My daughter! My daughter!”‘ Cortes said.
Flames could be seen from blocks away.
Firefighters entered one of the burning houses and pulled out another passenger, who was unconscious.
“It’s horrible,” Moore said, especially given that they had gone to a cheerleading competition and it was “supposed to be a happy time.”
Authorities have not given the ages or identities of the victims.
The tail number of the aircraft is N1246G, according to a government official with knowledge of the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to release the information until next-of-kin have been notified.
Federal records show that number is assigned to a twin-engine Cessna 310 registered to Nouri Hijazi of San Jose. Telephone listings for him were either disconnected or went to voicemail.
Moore did not provide the name of the cheerleading competition, but the Jr. USA Nationals for girls 15 and under was held at Disney California Adventure Park over the weekend. Officials with the competition did not immediately return calls Tuesday.
H.L. Reyes, who lives about a quarter-mile from the crash site, said she felt the ground shake and saw plumes of black smoke.
“I thought it was a possible earthquake, and we heard all the birds just suddenly react outside, too,” Reyes said. “This was just like a nightmare coming true.”
Hector Jimenez, 19, was playing video games at home when he heard a loud boom and saw black smoke.
“It’s just sad that it happened here,” he said. “It makes me nervous living around an airport. That’s one of my worst fears, having this happen.”
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