RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — Three people died and two were injured, one critically, when a small plane carrying them home from a cheerleading competition slammed into two Southern California homes and sparked a raging fire, authorities and witnesses said.
The twin-engine plane with five occupants had just taken off from Riverside Municipal Airport at 4:40 p.m. Monday intending to return to San Jose after the weekend Disneyland event when it crashed about a mile away in the residential neighborhood, Riverside Fire Chief Michael Moore said.
One of the survivors was hospitalized with critical burns and the other was in stable condition, police Officer Ryan Railsback said Tuesday. He said both were adult women recovering after undergoing surgery.
The remains of an adult woman were removed from the wreckage, which was still smoldering the morning after the crash, Railsback said.
The bodies of an adult man and a female teenager remained at the site of the crash that destroyed two suburban houses and sent debris flying down the block of single-family homes. One of the plane's propellers landed on a rooftop.
"It's unrecognizable, really, as a plane," said Railsback, who added that it was "remarkable" no one on the ground was hurt.
One of the destroyed houses was empty at the time and a man escaped the neighboring home without suffering injuries. Nearly all of about 40 residents evacuated after the fiery crash returned home.
One of the survivors was thrown from a back seat of the plane but suffered only minor injuries, Moore said.
Three witnesses told TV stations one survivor crawled from the home asking for help. She was able to talk to firefighters about what had happened as she was taken to a hospital, Moore said.
Police said the airport's control tower called local authorities after the plane went down. Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board will try to determine what occurred in the minutes after takeoff.
Juan Cortes, 42, was installing fencing a few blocks away with his son when they saw a low-flying plane make an awkward tilt and go straight down. Moments later, they said they saw smoke and knew it was a crash.
He said people were screaming in the street and he saw a woman pulled from the wreckage.
"She was alive because she was screaming, 'My daughter! My daughter!" Cortes said.
Flames could be seen from blocks away.
Firefighters entered one of the burning houses and pulled out another passenger, who was unconscious.
"It's horrible," Moore said, especially given that they had gone to a cheerleading competition and it was "supposed to be a happy time."
Authorities initially said four people died, and that the critically injured victim was a resident of the homes. They later reduced the death toll to three and said all five victims had been on the plane. They have not given the ages or identities of the victims.
The tail number of the aircraft is N1246G, according to a government official with knowledge of the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to release the information until next-of-kin have been notified.
According to federal records that number is assigned to a twin-engine Cessna 310 registered to Nouri Hijazi of San Jose, California. Telephone listings for him were either disconnected or went to voicemail.
Moore did not provide the name of the cheerleading competition, but the Jr. USA Nationals for girls age 15 and under was held at Disney California Adventure Park over the weekend. Officials with the competition did not immediately return calls Tuesday.
The two homes that were hit directly were destroyed, and there was minor damage to neighboring houses, Moore said.
H.L. Reyes, who lives about a quarter-mile from the crash site, told The Associated Press she felt the ground shake and saw plumes of black smoke.
"I thought it was a possible earthquake, and we heard all the birds just suddenly react outside, too," Reyes said. "This was just like a nightmare coming true."
Hector Jimenez, 19, was playing video games at home when he heard a loud boom and saw black smoke.
"It's just sad that it happened here," he said. "It makes me nervous living around an airport. That's one of my worst fears, having this happen."
Associated Press writers Christopher Weber, John Antczak and Andrew Dalton in Los Angeles contributed to this report.