Teenage girl and two adults die after cheerleading contest when plane crashes into California homes

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 March, 2017, 3:05pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 March, 2017, 3:09pm

Three people including a teenager 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 4.40pm Monday intending to return to San Jose after the weekend Disneyland event when it crashed about 1.5km away in the residential neighbourhood, Riverside Fire Chief Michael Moore said.

One of the survivors was hospitalised 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 smouldering the morning after the crash, Railsback said.

The Junior USA Cheerleading Nationals for girls aged 15 and under was held at Disney California Adventure Park over the weekend. Officials with the competition did not immediately return calls Tuesday.

The bodies of an adult man and a teenage girl 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 unrecognisable, 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 neighbouring 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.