SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — Witnesses watched in horror as a small plane banked low in sunny skies over a Southern California shopping center and then suddenly nosedived, crashing into a parking lot and killing all five people on board.
Ella Pham and her boyfriend were walking across the lot Sunday when they saw the twin-engine Cessna plummet.
“We looked up to see the plane falling nose first,” Pham, 20, she told the Los Angeles Times . “It was so heartbreaking just seeing the plane crumbled into pieces.”
The pilot of the Cessna 414 and all four passengers were killed but nobody on the ground was hurt, authorities said.
The Orange County coroner’s office on Monday identified the victims as Scott Shepherd, 53, and Lara Shepherd, 42, of Diablo, California; Floria Hakimi, 62, of Danville, California; Navid Hakimi, 32, of Los Angeles; and Nasim Ghanadan, 29, of Alamo, California.
The pilot, Scott Shepherd, declared an emergency before crashing about a mile (1.6 kilometers) from John Wayne Airport, Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Arlene Salac said.
The plane was heading to the airport southeast of Los Angeles when it came down and struck an unoccupied parked car in the lot of a Staples store and a CVS pharmacy, Orange County Fire Authority Captain Steve Concialdi said. There was no fire, he said.
Jesse Perez was eating lunch with a friend at Buffalo Wild Wings, which shares the parking lot, when he heard the crash.
“It sounded like a truck hit the building,” he told the Orange County Register .
Customers ran from the restaurant into the lot and saw the wreckage of the white Cessna with green and blue trim.
“Bodies were hanging from out the side of the plane,” said Perez, adding that emergency workers were there within minutes. “I couldn’t believe what was happening.”
Photos from the scene showed the plane crumpled and broken apart and the car damaged. Several roads were closed surrounding the shopping center and the busy South Coast Plaza mall across the street.
The plane is registered to a San Francisco-based company, Category III, according to an FAA database. A phone call to the company was not immediately returned Sunday.
The 1973 Cessna was certified with the FAA through October 2019, online records show.
The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the cause of the crash, Salac said.