NTSB investigates East Palo Alto plane crash

February 18, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
All of the key pieces of evidence have been collected in Wednesday's deadly plane crash in East Palo Alto. Investigators spent the day at the scene picking up chunks of wreckage that could help explain what went wrong.

An audio recording from the moment of impact was released Thursday. It's from what police call a ShotSpotter -- a piece of equipment with sensors scattered throughout the city that detects gunshots. The sound of the plane crashing triggered those sensors which then produced the audio recording; on it you can hear what it sounded like as the plane crashed into Beech Street. The recording can be a valuable piece of evidence for federal investigators who are trying to find out why the plane crashed.

"We can tell a lot by engine RPM, the sounds of the engine being produced that was captured on the recording itself," National Transportation Safety Board investigator Josh Cawthra said.

All three people in the Cessna who died worked for Tesla Motors. The deceased were 56-year-old senior electrical engineer Doug Bourn of Santa Clara, 42-year-old senior manager of interactive electronics Brian M. Finn of East Palo Alto, and 31-year-old electrical engineer Andrew Ingram of Palo Alto.

Bourn was the pilot and owner of the plane. The NTSB has reviewed the radio transmissions from Bourn to traffic control.

"I can say that we had zero distress calls received from the pilot of the accident aircraft," Cawthra said. "The last communication was regarding the takeoff clearance."

Bourn's girlfriend, Ana Hays, says Bourn loved to fly and was a good pilot.

"Just meticulous to a tee," Hays said. "I flew with him several times."

The twin-engine Cessna hit a transmission tower shortly after takeoff, then veered uncontrollably into the neighborhood. Debris from the plane fell into a home daycare center and damaged cars and a carport. No one on the ground was hurt.

The plane finally skidded down Beech Street before exploding. If it had crashed into homes, people on the ground may have died.

"I like to think that he had something to do with it; that it didn't hit any of the homes because that would have wrecked him," Hays said.

"He was very caring. He loved his family," Ingram's aunt Kathy Trafton said. "He was incredibly smart and passionate. He loved things technical. He loved cars."

Federal investigators say they have located all of the major parts of the plane. The Menlo Park Fire Department expects to have all of the debris cleared by Thursday evening.

The NTSB says they will have a preliminary report on their findings in about one week. The final report could take six months to one year.

What is left of the plane is being hauled to a NTSB warehouse in Sacramento where investigators will take apart the engines, inspect the flight system, and check whether the plane's instruments were working correctly.

A PG&E crew performed a high wire act Thursday night to replace the tower damaged in the accident.

Thick fog prevented the work from being done until the evening.

PG&E used a helicopter to lower a cable to a worker who attached it to the damaged tower. Moments later, the helicopter lifted it off the ground and hauled it away.

The NTSB plans to examine that tower as part of its investigation into the crash.

Crews will rewire the new transmission tower Friday, but PG&E promises no service will be disrupted.

ABC7's Lisa Amin Gulezian contributed to this report.