sponsored by



Investigators seek answers in deadly plane crash

Send a link to a friend

[March 19, 2010]  EAST PALO ALTO, Calif. (AP) -- Investigators are trying to determine if foggy weather was a key factor when a twin-engine plane plunged into a Silicon Valley neighborhood, killing all three people aboard as fiery wreckage damaged homes but "miraculously" sparing people on the ground.

The aircraft was carrying three employees of electric car maker Tesla Motors Inc. when it took off from Palo Alto Airport in heavy fog Wednesday morning en route to Hawthorne Municipal Airport in Southern California. The identities of the employees have not been released.

Shortly after takeoff, the Cessna 310 clipped a set of power lines and crashed on Beech Street in East Palo Alto just before 8 a.m. Residents ran for safety as the plane and debris slammed into houses.

A wing slammed into a home where a day care center operated, but the seven people inside the house, including an infant, all escaped moments before the home went up in flames.

Menlo Park Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said "miraculously" no one was killed or injured on the ground, crediting either luck or the skill of the pilot.

Benjamin Ramirez said he was leaving his house to take his son to school when he saw the plane go down, making "a sound as loud as a bomb."

After telling his son to go back inside the house, he said he ran over to the crash site and tried unsuccessfully to douse the fiery wreckage with a hose.

"I was scared I was going to die too. I threw the hose down and I ran," Ramirez said in Spanish. "I feel happy to be alive but also traumatized."

National Transportation Safety Board investigators will be at the crash site for several days to interview witnesses and examine the wreckage. A preliminary report on the accident will be ready next week, and a final report will be published in six to 12 months, said Josh Kawthra, an NTSB investigator.

Investigators said fog limited visibility to one-eighth of a mile at the time of the crash, but pilots are allowed to fly in foggy conditions if they use their flight instruments.

Officials said the aircraft either struck a 100-foot electrical tower or clipped its power transmission lines and broke apart, raining fiery debris throughout the working-class Silicon Valley neighborhood.

The crash rattled San Carlos-based Tesla Motors, one of only a few companies producing and selling purely electric cars. The plane was owned by Doug Bourn of Santa Clara, identified by a Tesla spokesman as a senior electrical engineer at the company.

"Tesla is a small, tightly knit company, and this is a tragic day for us," Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a statement.

The San Mateo County Coroner's office have not positively identified the victims and probably will not do so until Friday, said Michelle Rippy, senior deputy coroner.

Thousands of homes, workplaces and businesses in East Palo Alto and neighboring Palo Alto lost power for most of the day Wednesday.

Many street lights were not working, office parking lots stood empty and most shops on University Avenue near Stanford University were closed. Stanford Hospital used a backup electrical generator and canceled non-emergency surgeries.

Hewlett-Packard Co.'s corporate headquarters were dark and employees were asked to find other places to work Wednesday, an HP spokeswoman said. Palo Alto-based Facebook Inc. said its offices were without power but the outage did not affect the Web site.

[to top of second column]

Pamela Houston, an employee of the day care, said she was feeding an infant when she heard a loud boom that she initially thought was an earthquake until she "saw a big ball of fire hit the side of the house."

Houston said she screamed to the others in the house -- the owner, the owner's husband and their three children -- and the group safely escaped before the home went up in flames.

"There are not even words to describe what it felt like," she said. "I am very thankful to God that he allowed us to get out."

Kate McClellan, 57, said she was walking her dog when she saw a plane descend from the foggy sky and strike the tower, causing power lines to swing wildly in the air.

"It burst into flames, and then it kept flying for bit before it hit some houses and exploded," McClellan said.

The crash comes at a difficult time for Tesla, which was founded seven years ago and employs 515 people worldwide.

Just three weeks ago, the fledgling automaker filed plans to sell it stock to the public for the first time in an offering aimed at raising at $100 million. To help keep its business afloat, Tesla had previously raised more than $300 million from venture capitalists and affluent investors that include Google Inc. founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.


Tesla's two-door Roadster, which retails for $109,000, is the only product that the money-losing company currently sells -- and fewer than 1,000 of those models had been delivered to owners entering 2010. The company's next car, the Model S sedan, isn't due in showrooms until 2012.

To help bring the sedan to market, Tesla lined up a $465 million loan from the U.S. Department of Energy last year. That money came from a pool Congress set aside in 2007 to help automakers develop fuel-efficient technology.


Associated Press writers Jason Dearen, Marcus Wohlsen, Michael Liedtke and Terence Chea in San Francisco contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

< Top Stories index

Back to top


News | Sports | Business | Rural Review | Teaching & Learning | Home and Family | Tourism | Obituaries

Community | Perspectives | Law & Courts | Leisure Time | Spiritual Life | Health & Fitness | Teen Scene
Calendar | Letters to the Editor