YORBA LINDA (CBSLA) – National Transportation Safety Board officials Monday were investigating what caused a small plane to break apart and slam into a Yorba Linda home Sunday afternoon shortly after takeoff, killing five people and injuring two more.
In a news conference Monday afternoon with the NTSB and Orange County Sheriff’s Department, the pilot and sole occupant of the plane was identified as 75-year-old Antonio Pastini of Gardnerville, Nevada. Pastini is reportedly a retired Chicago police officer, the sheriff’s department said. A relative of Pastini told CBS2 he traveled to O.C. a few times a year to visit his daughter and grandchildren.
The other four victims, two men and two women – all believed to be family members – have not yet been identified.
At about 1:45 p.m., the twin-engine Cessna exploded overhead and broke apart, with a portion of the plane slamming into a home in the 19000 block of Crestknoll Drive, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. Several other nearby homes also caught fire, leaving debris over a four-block radius.
Along with the five victims, two more people were badly burned, including a woman who was on fire when she ran out of the burning home.
“Her hair was smoking, her hair was on fire,” one witness told CBS2.
The plane took off from nearby Fullerton Municipal Airport at 1:35 p.m. It had hit an elevation of about 7,800 feet and traveled about 10 miles when something went wrong. Cell phone video showed the plane breaking apart in midair and pieces reigning from the sky.
“From the video, it appears it was an in-flight break up,” NTSB head investigator Maya Smith said Monday. “There was a few witness statements out there that said the wings fell off first, and then the explosion followed because probably fuel onboard.”
More video showed the chaos that ensued, with flames and smoke billowing hundreds of feet in the air as one man using a garden hose to put out fire on part of the wing. The cabin of the plane landed in a ravine near an adjacent home.
“‘What is that noise?’,” witness Judd Rex recounted to CBS2 Monday. “And it got louder and louder and louder, ’til it was so piercing, I wanted to cover my ears – and then there was an explosion.”
Nancy Mehl will never forget the sound she heard seconds before the plane crashed into both her and her neighbor’s house a few doors down.
“I could hear just the worst screaming of the engine, like a super whine,” Mehl said. “Just really, really high pitched, louder than anything I’ve ever heard.”
A piece of the engine and shrapnel tore through Mehl’s home, shattering windows, cutting through dry wall and landing in her bathroom – missing her by just feet.
“What a split second difference would have made – and how grateful I am it didn’t,” Mehl said.”And how God must still have something for me important to do because I’m still here,” she said.
According to authorities, owners of the burned home were hosting a Super Bowl party and had friends on their way when the crash occurred.
“They cared for their neighbors and for friends and family, and they will be truly, truly missed,” family friend Daniel Ugalde told CBS2.
No information is available yet regarding why the plane crashed, O.C. Fire Authority Capt. Cameron Rossman said. A preliminary crash report will be available in 10 to 14 days, he said.
Classes at Glenknoll Elementary School, located about one block from the crash site, were canceled Monday because the school was serving as an incident command post for law enforcement agencies. Classes were expected to resume Tuesday.
The NTSB will eventually transport the wreckage and other evidence back to a facility in Arizona where it will study it to help determine a cause.