Yorba Linda – A small plane slammed into a two-story house in the Californian city of Yorba Linda on Sunday, killing five people including the pilot, and creating a chaotic scene as neighbors ran out to discover the home on fire and pieces of the aircraft strewn across their yards.
Two men and two women were killed inside the burning home, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department confirmed. The pilot was the plane’s sole occupant.
Two other people were taken to a hospital with mild to moderate burns, said fire Capt. Cameron Rossman, a spokesman for the Orange County Fire Authority. A firefighter suffered a minor ankle injury, he said.
Radar shows that the plane took a left turn after takeoff and began its rapid descent 10 miles into the trip, National Transportation Safety Board investigator Eliott Simpson said at an evening news conference. The wreckage spanned four blocks.
A call about the crash in the 19000 block of Crestknoll Drive came in at 1:45 p.m., said Carrie Braun, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. She did not have information about what may have led to the crash.
The Cessna 414 had just taken off from the Fullerton Municipal Airport at 1:35 p.m., NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said. He said his agency is investigating the crash along with the Federal Aviation Administration.
A person who answered the phone at Fullerton Airport Operations, but declined to give his name, said the pilot frequently flew out of the airport.
Joshua Nelson, 28, said he was about to take a nap when he heard a shrill whistling sound and a loud bang outside his home on Crestknoll Drive. He hopped out of bed, ran out the front door and saw a plume of black smoke.
Nelson began recording a video on his phone before he had any clue what was going on. He soon learned that a propeller had landed in the front yard of a house three doors down, smashing windows but not harming anyone inside. Seven doors down, a house was on fire.
Nelson said he’s not used to seeing many of his neighbors in his quiet community. But when the plane crashed, residents seemed to spill out of their homes in unison.
Around 4 p.m., Nelson’s street was sectioned off with caution tape and choked with news and fire trucks. His family canceled their Super Bowl party.
"I would never expect anything like this to happen here," he said.
Neighbor Nancy Mehl, 65, was in her kitchen when she heard what sounded like the high-pitched whine of a plane preparing for takeoff.
She said she could sense that something bad was about to happen, so she grabbed her two Labradors and sprinted to the far back corner of her house on Crestknoll Drive. Her husband, Jim, had also taken cover elsewhere in their home of 12 years.
"And then it felt like a bomb went off through the front of the house," Mehl said.
A piece of the plane’s engine had knocked down a pillar on the front porch, ricocheted and torpedoed through a first-floor window with such momentum that it flew through two rooms before landing in a bathroom. Fragments of exhaust pipe crashed through a second-floor window and melted into the carpet. A propeller thumped onto the driveway.
"One of the first things I did when I saw the damage was get on my knees and thank God," Mehl said. "Talk about being spared."
Down the street, Sarah Ahern was blow drying her 7-year-old daughter’s hair for a Super Bowl party when she felt the ground shake beneath her feet.
The mother scooped up her daughter and 9-year-old son and took cover in the hallway of their home. The house shook.
"It’s an earthquake," Ahern yelled out to her husband.
Then came at least two explosions.
"No, a plane crashed into our neighbor’s house," her husband said. "A plane is on fire. Call 911!"
"Are they OK? Can you get people out of the house?" their daughter asked.
There was nothing she and her husband could do.
"The whole house, I mean within a matter of seconds, was burning," Ahern said.
They didn’t know whether anyone was in the house. Her husband ran outside and grabbed a hose to try to put out the fire.
A flaming plane wing landed in Ahern’s front yard and continued to burn, but the rain helped put it out.
After law enforcement showed up, officers asked people to leave, Ahern said. She gathered her children and hurried down the street a few homes to where her parents live.
Her husband stayed behind to help.