WATSONVILLE, Calif. - Three people and one dog died in a collision between two planes that were attempting to land at Watsonville Municipal Airport on Thursday, authorities said on Friday.
The crash was reported around 3 p.m. Thursday involving a single-engine Cessna 152 with one person aboard and a twin-engine Cessna 340 with two people and their pet dog aboard as both planes were on their final approaches to the airport at 100 Aviation Way, Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson Ian Gregor said.
Federal investigators say the twisted and mangled wreckage behind me will remain here until at least Saturday. The cause of the collision remains under investigation.
"We are going to look into the man, the machine, and the environment as we continue with this investigation," said Fabian Salazar, an air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board.
The Santa Cruz County Sheriff confirmed that three people died.
This is the first accident of its kind in at least more than a decade, officials said.
"Anytime that there is an accident or concern, whether a loss of life which is the most serious, to a flat tire on the ramp, it’s a small community and there are people here that are certainly grieving," said Rayvon Williams, the Watsonville airport's director.
Watsonville Mayor Ari Parker said the city was grieving "from this unexpected and sudden loss."
William Armstrong, who was trying to land his plane nearby, told KTVU that he had to go to a nearby airport and catch a ride back to Watsonville to get his car. He also said there have been a few accidents in the 15 years he’s used it, but he considers it a safe airport.
"Midair collisions, they’re very uncommon, but they are more common right next to the airport because all the airplanes are converging on one point," said Armstrong.
The collision involved a Cessna 152 and a larger Cessna 340.
The smaller 152 was piloted by a one-time student pilot and was turning to approach the runway, according to the NTSB.
Simultaneously, the larger 340, with two adults and one dog on board, was moving in a straight line and traveling much faster.
The 340 was flown into the back of the smaller plane, sending it into a field, while the larger plane crashed into a hanger.
Sources say the pilot of the Cessna 152 was connected to United Flight Services.
Visibly shaken staffers inside declined comment about the loss of life, but one aviation aficionado says pilot of the Cessna 152 was popular.
The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash, which also damaged a hangar at the airport.
Air safety investigator for NTSB Fabian Salazar said Watsonville Municipal Airport is an uncontrolled airport, which means there is no air traffic control tower overseeing flights on the two runways. Pilots use a common aircraft traffic frequency, but federal officials say such communication is not mandatory.
There is no plan to construct a tower.
Investigators say once their ground surveys are completed, the wreckage will be moved to a private Pleasant Grove facility specializing in accident recovery and reconstruction.
The NTSB hopes to have a preliminary report on this crash in 14 days, and a final report in one-to-two years.
The names of the victims have not been released by the Santa Cruz County Coroner’s Office.