Five people died and two were injured after a small plane apparently broke apart on Sunday over a Southern California suburb, raining debris on a neighbourhood and setting a house on fire, authorities said. Four people in the house that burned in the city of Yorba Linda were killed, along with the pilot, who was the only person in the twin-engine plane, Orange County Sheriff’s Lt. Cory Martini told reporters.
Martini said the dead occupants of the home were two males and two females but did not provide other information about them.
The Cessna 414A that can carry up to eight people took off from the Fullerton Municipal Airport about 19 kilometres west of the blaze, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer said.
According to preliminary radar data, the plane reached an altitude of about 2,377 metres and then made a rapid descent, said Eliott Simpson, an aviation accident investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board. The debris field spanned about four blocks, he said.
The main cabin of the aeroplane and one engine came to rest at the bottom of a ravine in the backyard of a house and the other engine landed on a street, creating a hole, Simpson said.
“During the impact sequence one house caught fire and that’s where we have the four fatalities,” he said.
It was not immediately clear what set the two-storey house ablaze. The property where the fuselage ended about three houses down from the home that burned.
Aerial footage from news helicopters showed plane parts, including side panels and a propeller, scattered on rooftops and driveways near the burned house. The crash sent panicked neighbours into the streets.
“It was a boom. It sounded like something exploded. It shook our house,” said John Wolbart, who lives a block away.
He said he ran to the burning house and saw a woman come out with singed hair. The wounded were taken to a hospital with burns, said Pokey Sanchez, an assistant chief with the Orange County Fire Authority. A firefighter was also treated for a minor injury.
Clint Langford, who lives about 0.8 kilometres away, said he was in his living room when he heard a low rumbling.
“It’s the eerie, low rumbling sound that keeps getting lower and louder. It was scary,” he said. “And then all of a sudden boom. It shook the house.” He looked out his front door and could see plane parts falling out the sky in the distance.
Pat Rogers, who lives about 1.6 kilometres from the crash site, told the Orange County Register he saw the plane on fire and coming apart. Video posted on Twitter showed panicked residents running to the house as it became engulfed in flames and dark smoke. One man used a garden house to douse a burning wing that landed on the street.
Rain from a winter storm helped firefighters extinguish the house fire. The US Transportation and Safety Board will investigate the cause of the crash.
Simpson said it will take some time to determine the maintenance history of the aircraft, which was built in 1981.
Representatives of the manufacturers of the airframe and engines were expected on the scene on Monday.