At least 2 dead, including UPS employee, after small plane crashes into Southern California homes; investigation underway

At least two people were killed, including a UPS driver, and two others were injured after a small plane crashed into multiple homes and vehicles in a suburban Southern California neighborhood Monday, officials said.

The crash happened shortly after noon in the city of Santee, about 20 miles northeast of downtown San Diego, Fire Chief John Garlow told USA TODAY. 

The plane, a twin-engine Cessna 340, struck several homes and multiple vehicles, including aUPS truckthat was "heavily damaged," Garlow said. Three homes had "major damage" and two were completely burned, he said. 

UPS confirmed in a written statement to USA TODAY that an employee died in the crash. 

“We are heartbroken by the loss of our employee, and extend our deepest condolences to his family and friends," the statement said. "We also send our condolences for the other individuals who are involved in this incident, and their families and friends."

Two people were taken to the hospital with burn injuries, Deputy Fire Chief Justin Matsushita told reporters. More victims were possible, he said, adding: "it's a pretty brutal scene."

Authorities did not immediately release the identities of those killed or injured. An investigator from the National Transportation Safety Board was expected to be at the scene Tuesday morning, according to an agency tweet.

Witnesses described a retired couple being rescued from one of two homes that were destroyed in Santee, according to the Associated Press. No one was home at the other house that was destroyed, which sold only a month ago.

Jim Slaff told NBC 7 in San Diego that neighbors pulled his mother out of a window of her burning home and rescued his stepfather from the backyard. It appears their dog died. 

Slaff said neighbors told him the couple was “obviously shaken up but doing OK,” and taken to UC San Diego Medical Center. “It’s a war zone. It’s not even a house,” Slaff said after arriving at the scene.

The sheriff's department was checking inside nearby homes, too, he said.

The plane was believed to be a private aircraft flying from Yuma, Arizona, to Montgomery-Gibbs Executive Airport in San Diego, Matsushita said. It was unknown how many were on board, but Mastushita said no one would have survived.

Shortly before, when the plane was about a half-mile from the runway, an air traffic controller alerted the pilot that the aircraft was too low. “Low altitude alert, climb immediately, climb the airplane,” the controller tells the pilot in audio obtained by KSWB-TV. 

The controller repeatedly urges the plane to climb to 5,000 feet, and when it remains at 1,500 feet warns: “You appear to be descending again, sir.” 

KGTV-TV, an ABC affiliate, posted video the station said it received from a viewer showing the plane arcing in the sky and then plunging into the neighborhood in a burst of flames. 

The plane was owned by Dr. Sugata Das, who may have been piloting the aircraft and died in the crash.  He worked at Yuma Regional Medical Center in Arizona, the hospital’s chief medical officer said. 

Das, a licensed pilot, lived in San Diego and commuted back and forth to Yuma, according to a website for a non-profit organization he served as director. He leaves two young sons.

Jennifer Ward told USA TODAY she was sitting at home watching a movie when she felt the house shake.

"I thought a tree fell on my house, and then I ran outside and saw all the black smoke," Ward said. The plane crashed one street over from her. Ward said she drives down the road "several times a day."

The plane crashed between Ward's house and nearby Santana High School. Students at Santana temporarily went into secure locations and were later released.

"All the kids at the school were really scared because they didn’t know what was going on, and the school was shaking, too," said Ward, whose 15-year-old son attends Santana.

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Neighbors watch fire crews near the scene of a small plane crash, Monday, Oct. 11, 2021, in Santee, Calif. At least two people were killed and two others were injured when the plane crashed into a suburban Southern California neighborhood, setting two homes ablaze, authorities said.

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board were investigating. The American Red Cross of Southern California set up a temporary evacuation center at a nearby YMCA.

"We offer our deepest sympathies to the loved ones of those we lost in today's plane crash," the San Diego Sheriff's Department said on Twitter.

Santee has seen other plane crashes in recent years, Garlow said. A crash in a commercial area in 2015 killed a pilot, he said. Another crash 10 years ago in a residential area also killed a pilot, he said.

Contributing: The Associated Press