Two small planes collided in Northern California while trying to land at a local airport Thursday and all three occupants were killed, officials said.
The planes crashed at Watsonville Municipal Airport shortly before 3 p.m., according to a tweet from the city of Watsonville. The city-owned airport does not have a control tower to direct aircraft landing and taking off.
There were two people aboard a twin-engine Cessna 340 and only the pilot aboard a single-engine Cessna 152 during the crash, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Officials initially reported two people died, and the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office confirmed the third fatality Friday morning.
The pilots were on their final approaches to the airport before the collision, the FAA said in a statement. The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.
“We’ll be here all day today collecting factual evidence of the scene and afterwards we’ll be conducting witness interviews,” said Fabian Salazar, NTSB Air Safety investigator.
No one on the ground was injured. The airport has four runways and is home to more than 300 aircraft, according to its website. It handles more than 55,000 operations a year and is used often for recreational planes and agriculture businesses.
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Watsonville, near the Monterey Bay, is about 100 miles south of San Francisco.
Photos and videos posted on social media showed the wreckage of one small plane in a grassy field by the airport. One picture showed a plume of smoke visible from a street near the airport.
A photo from the city of Watsonville showed damage to a small building at the airport, with firefighters on the scene.
The planes were about 200 feet in the air when they crashed, a witness told the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
Franky Herrera was driving past the airport when he saw the twin-engine plane bank hard to the right and hit the wing of the smaller aircraft, which “just spiraled down and crashed” near the edge of the airfield and not far from homes, he told the newspaper.
The twin-engine aircraft kept flying but “it was struggling,” Herrera said, and then he saw flames at the other side of the airport.
The manager of the Watsonville Municipal Airport was unavailable for a phone interview in the hours after the crash. The airport accounts for about 40% of all general aviation activities in the Monterey Bay area, according to the City of Watsonville’s website.
The Watsonville Police Department referred calls to the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office, where a dispatcher had no information.
Two other pilots also were hurt in aircraft crashes elsewhere in California on Thursday.
A 65-year-old San Diego man received injuries that were major but not life-threatening when his single-engine plane crashed on a street near a busy freeway overpass in El Cajon, authorities said.
The plane reportedly struck an SUV but nobody on the ground was hurt in the city nearly 20 miles northeast of downtown San Diego.
Later, the pilot of an ultralight aircraft was critically injured when it crashed upside down on a building at the Camarillo Airport in Ventura County, about 60 miles from downtown Los Angeles.