Posted: Tuesday, February 28, 2017 – 2:17 PM
(CNS) – Two women were in critical condition Tuesday after surviving a fiery plane crash in Riverside that claimed the lives of three other occupants and destroyed two homes, where federal investigators were sifting through debris and examining remnants of the wreckage to sort out what happened.
“We are sorrowed by the loss of life and those who were injured,” said Riverside City Councilman Mike Soubirous, who represents the district just east of Riverside Municipal Airport where the twin-engine Cessna 310 went down Monday afternoon.
Soubirous and Riverside Fire Department Capt. Tyler Reynolds held a news briefing less than 300 feet from the crash site, in the 6400 block of Rhonda Road, halfway between Dewey Avenue and Beatty Drive. No part of the six-seat Cessna could be readily identified among the smoldering ruins.
“The plane struck the right front corner of the house,” Reynolds said. “The victims were ejected.”
More than 60 firefighters converged on the location within minutes of the 4:40 p.m. crash, according to the fire captain.
He said a man, woman and teenage girl were pronounced dead at the scene. Another woman was pulled out of a bedroom, while another was located in the front yard, Reynolds said.
One of the women suffered burns to roughly 90 percent of her body and was admitted for treatment at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton, Reynolds said. The exact injuries to the second survivor, who was taken to Riverside Community Hospital, were not known.
None of the victims’ identities were disclosed, and it remained unclear who was piloting the airplane, although witnesses said Monday the survivor found in the front yard of the burning home said she was the pilot. According to police and fire officials, the victims’ relatives, by and large, reside in the San Jose area. It could not be immediately confirmed whether all of the parties were related.
According to Reynolds, both of the homes destroyed in the ensuing blaze were unoccupied at the time.
The fire, fueled by hundreds of pounds of aviation gasoline, charred one entire single-story residence and most of the adjacent one. Two other homes were also impacted but completely intact, according to the fire captain.
The blaze was fully contained in 20 minutes, and no hazardous materials cleanup was required afterward, he told City News Service.
“It’s a tragic incident,” Reynolds said, adding that the National Transportation Safety Board was handling the investigation. Several agents were at work during the news briefing.
Soubirous, himself a licensed pilot, said he remained confident in the handling of aircraft operations at Riverside Municipal Airport, which records more than 400,000 takeoffs and landings annually.
“The FAA has strict rules, and flight paths are followed properly,” the councilman said.
The Cessna 310 was carrying a married couple and three others from the San Jose area, according to Riverside Fire Department Chief Michael Moore.
FAA spokesman Ian Gregor told City News Service the aircraft was en route to San Jose and had just departed Riverside on Runway 9 eastbound.
The victims had come from San Jose for a cheerleading conference at Disneyland, Moore said. Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim hosted the United Spirit Association Jr. Nationals cheerleading competition on Saturday and Sunday.
The plane clipped power lines as it went down. Light rain was falling at the time, and overcast conditions prevailed, though visibility was about three miles, according to Riverside Municipal Airport.
The family residing in one of the destroyed homes returned from an event with relatives following the crash and verified that they were all together and accounted for, Moore said. The occupant of the neighboring property was also not there but was located later, unharmed, according to police.
The entire block of about 40 homes was evacuated, but most residents had returned Tuesday and could be seen standing outside their properties.
Nine people were displaced as a result of the fire. A few were assisted by the American Red Cross, while others received help from immediate and extended family, according to Reynolds.