A Beechcraft B36 Bonanza crashed not far from San Diego after the pilot radioed to report engine failure and then attempted an emergency landing in a schoolyard and park. The aircraft skidded along the ground after making contact and broke through a nearby fence, crashing into the home behind it and causing a catastrophic fire.
Four people were on board the Beechcraft, and two died in the crash. Small plane crashes can be devastating, and while plane crashes into residential buildings are not as common, they often occur near airports and can be especially deadly.
Distress Call from Beechcraft Came Not Long After LeavingMontgomery-Gibbs Airport
Officials have not released full details on the 1995 Beechcraft B36’s flight path, but reports indicate that the plane left Torrance, California (an area in the South Bay region of Los Angeles) during the first part of Saturday, December 9, 2017. The unidentified pilot then landed the aircraft at Montgomery-Gibbs Executive Airport, six miles north of downtown San Diego.
It has not been revealed whether the pilot was the only one on the plane from Torrance to San Diego, but it’s likely that at least two passengers boarded at Montgomery-Gibbs, as a couple on board during the crash were in San Diego before the tragedy.
The Beechcraft took off for the second time that day from Montgomery-Gibbs Executive Airport at approximately 4:30 p.m. A distress call followed shortly, according to San Diego-Fire Rescue Chief Brian Fennessy. The pilot said he was experiencing catastrophic engine failure and would attempt to return to the airport. Witnesses say, however, that it appeared the plane attempted an emergency landing before it crashed.
The aircraft made contact with the ground at Lafayette Elementary School, where an open yard and an adjacent park provided some space for the Beechcraft. The plane then traveled an estimated 100 to 200 yards, on a path that included trees, a pool, and two fences. It finally stopped when it crashed into a Chandler Drive home in the Mt. Abernathy Avenue area.
Both the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will now investigate the reasons why the plane crashed. The plane is registered to Altitude Aviation, a private jet charter company. Altitude Aviation has not released a statement on the plane crash in San Diego, but an unidentified employee says the company is cooperating with investigators.
Two Passengers Killed in San Diego Plane Crash
Two people died in the crash and subsequent fire, both passengers in the plane. The pilot and an additional passenger are believed to have survived the incident, though both sustained burn injuries that required treatment in the hospital.
Victims of Plane Accident Include a Couple From New York in Town for Veterinary Conference
The pilot and one passenger remain unidentified, but officials identified two passengers-a married couple from Southhampton, New York on the plane.
Robert and Dawn Stelling may have been in San Diego attending a veterinary conference called Fetch! for Dawn’s work as a veterinarian at the Olde Town Animal Hospital, which she also owns.
The third passenger on the Beechcraft Bonanza is believed to have been a friend that the Stellings were visiting in San Diego, according to Gil Flanagan, a separate friend of the couple. Flanagan told NBC 7 that Dawn “wanted to see San Diego from the sky,” and that was why they took the flight.
Robert was killed in the crash, as was the couple’s friend. Dawn survived and has since traveled back to Southhampton to be with family.
“Robert was one of the nicest people I’ve ever known,” Flanagan said of his friend. “It’s a terrible loss. This whole community will miss him and we stand behind him and his family.”
House Was Unoccupied Except for Family Pet at Time of Small Plane Crash
The Beechcraft remained embedded in the rear of the home as a fire broke out, quickly spreading to the structure and sending it up in flames. Max Massimiliano, one of the rental home’s residents, had left the house mere minutes before the plane crashed into it.
“I keep saying it’s a miracle that I got safe,” Massimiliano said in an interview with 10News.
Another fateful twist was that Massimiliano’s wife and daughter had departed on a trip to New York that day, saving them from being inside the house when the Beechcraft hit.
The family escaped danger but still face the tragedy from the incident. Their 16-year-old poodle was in the backyard when the plane struck and died. The fire destroyed the home and the family’s belongings.
“Inside is totally burned, a total loss,” Massimiliano said. “Nothing left and the house was engulfed in flames and fuel from the airplane; created an explosion, like a bomb dropped.”
A GoFundMe account has been created to help Massimiliano and his wife, identified on the account as Daniele Visco Gilardi, move forward. It had raised $10,016 of its $18,000 goal on December 12, 2017.
Neighbors Helped Control Blaze from Downed Beechcraft B36 Bonanza
Nearby residents were quick to work together in attempts to extinguish the blaze or control its burn as they waited for firefighters to arrive. They sprayed hoses over fences just feet away from the fire, and wet surrounding roofs to limit the spread.
Kyle Thomas lives next door to the destroyed house, and the Beechcraft crashed through his fence before stopping at his neighbors. He ran out of his home and came upon the sounds of a woman screaming for help.
“It was a horrible scream,” Thomas said to CBS8.
Gurujan Dourson was walking in the neighborhood with his fiancé and four-year-old poodle when they saw the plane plummeting.
“It was completely unreal,” Dourson recalled.
A nearby powerline snapped during the crash, and Dourson’s dog ran from her owners. Neighbors say they saw her get struck by a car before continuing to flee. The dog was still missing as of December 12, 2017.