- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 18, 2010

EAST PALO ALTO, Calif. | A small plane crashed Wednesday in a residential neighborhood shrouded in heavy fog, killing all three aboard, igniting fires and scattering debris onto a house where a children’s day care center operated, authorities said.

There were no reports of injury on the ground, and fires caused by the crash were soon extinguished.

The Cessna 310 crashed about 7:55 a.m., shortly after takeoff from the Palo Alto Airport, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The crash site is one mile northwest of the airport.

Identities of the victims aboard the aircraft were not known Wednesday afternoon.

Menlo Park Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said the plane either struck a 100-foot electrical tower or clipped its power transmission lines and broke apart, sending debris raining down on the working-class Silicon Valley neighborhood.

A wing fell onto the house where the day care center operated, and the rest of the plane struck the front retaining wall of another house down the street before landing on two vehicles on the street, Chief Schapelhouman said. Debris also struck two neighboring houses, he said.

The occupants of the homes have been accounted for, although authorities can’t be sure of the fatality count until crews begin clearing the wreckage, Chief Schapelhouman said.

“Either by luck or the skill of the pilot, the plane hit the street and not the homes on either side,” he added. “That saved people in this community.”

Kate McClellan, 57, said she was walking her dog when she saw a plane descend from the foggy sky and strike the tower, causing power lines to swing wildly in the air.

“It burst into flames, and then it kept flying for a bit before it hit some houses and exploded,” she said.

Pamela Houston, an employee of the day care in the house struck by the wing, said she was feeding an infant when she heard a loud boom that she initially thought was an earthquake until she “saw a big ball of fire hit the side of the house.”

Mrs. Houston said she screamed to the others in the house — the owner, the owner’s husband and their three children — and the group safely escaped before the home went up in flames.

“There are not even words to describe what it felt like,” she said. “I am very thankful to God that he allowed us to get out.”

The plane is registered to Air Unique Inc. No one answered the phone number listed for the Santa Clara company Wednesday morning. The plane was headed to the Hawthorne Municipal Airport in Southern California, the FAA said.

Calls to the Palo Alto Airport also were not returned.

The city of Palo Alto, which provides power through a municipal utility agency, said most of the city and surrounding area had lost power because of the plane crash. Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital and Stanford Hospital both were operating on backup generators and canceled elective surgeries for the day, said hospitals’ spokesman Robert Dicks.

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