3 killed in East Palo Alto plane crash

February 18, 2010 6:40:38 AM PST
Three people were killed when a twin engine Cessna 310R crashed into homes on Beech Street near Pulgas Avenue in East Palo Alto Wednesday morning.

"There were just flames, fire, explosions," East Palo Alto resident Bernice Turner said.

The twin engine Cessna hit an 80 foot high tension power line tower soon after it took off from the Palo Alto Municipal Airport just before 8 a.m.

The plane then veered uncontrollably into this residential neighborhood in East Palo Alto.

One of its wings fell off and into the roof of a house which also serves as a childcare center.

"I basically see half a plane on this side and the other half is in my auntie's backyard and basically her whole house fell apart," East Palo Alto resident Alisha Morris said. Morris' aunt Lisa Smith owns the house.

The house caught on fire. A daycare teacher and two young children were inside.

"When she heard the boom and looked out the window and seen the flames, she immediately grabbed the kids and got them out of the house," Smith's sister Tanya Jackson said.

The fire destroyed the home and the daycare facility which family members said would normally serve six children.

Parts of the Cessna also fell on neighboring homes as the plane twisted violently toward the street.

"We have a carport that was impacted by what looks like a fuselage and portions of a landing gear, we also see what we think is the motor of the aircraft," Menlo Park Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said.

The plane skidded down Beech Street, ricocheting off a retaining wall, and plowing into several parked cars.The Cessna exploded into flames as it finally came to rest in front a house. What was left of the fuselage became a metal coffin for the pilot and his two passengers.

On Thursday morning, one of the vehicles that were hit by the plane reignited. Menlo Park firefighters quickly extinguished the flames.

Whether by chance or the pilot's choice, the plane did not crash into a home.

"Miraculously no one on the ground was injured or killed; in this event so we feel very fortunate," Schapelhouman said.

By late morning, FAA investigators were on the scene, going through the debris, which includes parts the tower which the plane hit.

"We do see portions of the tower impaled in the wing and landing gear so it does look like it snagged that cable somehow because it carried portions of that cable," Schapelhouman said.

The NTSB is expected to take up to six months to determine the cause of the crash.

Crash causes mass power outages along the Peninsula

Three transmission lines were knocked out during the crash, causing widespread power outages in East Palo Alto, Palo Alto and Mountain View. Power was fully restored by 6:30 p.m.

History of the Cessna 310R

The Cessna 310R is a tried and true design, a twin-engine aircraft first manufactured more than 50 years ago.

It can carry 2,000 pounds of payload more than 800 miles at speeds of more than 200 miles an hour before refueling up. Early models held four people and later models grew to hold about seven passengers.

The last Cessna 310R rolled off the assembly line in 1981, but it is still very popular in the general aviation world. The FAA says there are more than 3,000 Cessna 310Rs still registered in the U.S.

Between 1983 and 2007, there were 461 accidents involving the aircraft; 137 of those involved at least one fatality. Pilots need a special certificate called a "Multi-engine Rating" in order to operate them.

Although it is going to be a while before a cause is determined in this case, the Airplane Owners and Pilots Association said weather is the number one cause of light twin-engine plane crashes.