Neighborhood begins to recover from plane crash

(David Louie/KGO)

February 19, 2010 7:59:46 PM PST
It took two days for PG&E crews to replace the tower and high tension wires damaged in Wednesday's fatal plane crash in East Palo Alto, but it will take much longer than that for people on Beech Street to feel less anxious and get a good night's sleep.

No one on Beech Street was killed in Wednesday's plane crash and only one house has been red tagged. Yet there are victims there, many of them long-time residents who will have mental scars.

It is time to start estimating the damage and repairing the homes. Insurance adjusters and inspectors have replaced investigators on Beech Street.

At the home of Pinkie and Ervin Hudleton, damage was done to the roof and a carport. A car also suffered fire damage. However, insurance will not be able to address the restless nights Ervin Hudleton is experiencing.

"I lay awake more than I sleep because, you don't know if a plane is going to come through the roof," he said.

PG&E crews finished up their work, replacing the tower damaged in the plane crash. The final step was transferring the three high-tension lines from a temporary pole to the cross arms of the new structure.

Electrical service to Palo Alto was not interrupted.

A few hundred yards away, single and twin engine planes continued to take off from Palo Alto Airport. One by one, they climbed to 400 feet and turned right over the bay -- the normal pattern.

But on Wednesday morning, circumstances under investigation caused pilot Doug Bourn's plane to turn left, striking the power tower.

Mirza Ochoa's house sits next to the tower.

"The first night I had to sleep with my mom in her room; I was actually afraid," Ochoa said.

The brunt of the damage was done to one house and the rear structure where a day care facility operated.

The next door neighbors hope the owner, Lisa Jones Smith, will return once repairs can be made.

"She does a lot of things with the kids; they teach them things, they have bicycles, they can ride their bikes, take them on field trips, I just think it's wonderful," Pinkie Hudleton said.

The neighborhood will live with reminders of the plane crash for some time. Burn marks, plywood boards covering damage, and tarps will not soon disappear, nor will the volume of traffic as Beech Street attracts a parade of curious spectators driving by to see where it happened.

The recovery process will take time. The Menlo Park fire chief points out it will take nine months to a year to repair the house damaged the worst.