SAN DIEGO - Three people were confirmed dead in a small-plane crash on Saturday in the Sycamore Canyon Open Space Preserve, north of Santee.
Ian Gregor, public affairs manager for the Federal Aviation Administration, said the single-engine Lancair IV-P crashed under unknown circumstances around 10:15 a.m. about 3 miles north of Santee.
"Sheriff's and fire officials are at the scene," Gregor said. "They are reporting there were three people on board and all were killed."
Gregor said the pilot had departed from Montgomery Field for Deer Valley Airport in Phoenix.
"The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will investigate this accident," Gregor said.
NTSB is the lead investigative agency. Gregor said the NTSB investigator usually posts a basic preliminary report on the agency's website, www.ntsb.gov, within a week or two of an accident. However, he said it typically takes NTSB months to come up with a probable cause for accidents.
At this point, it is unclear why the plane went down but witnesses have provided some clues.
"The plane was in some type of spin coming out of the sky," said San Diego County Sheriff's Sgt. Dave Hale. "We don't know much more than that."
California Highway Patrol officer Robert Catano said a hiker in the area witnessed a small plane go down after hearing a loud boom.
"He attempted to hike to where it was but couldn't reach it," Catano said. "The hiker said it looked like the plane may have been doing stunts, and never came out of it."
Catano said a sheriff's helicopter was sent out and found the crash site, which he said was in the area of Sycamore Canyon. The area is west of state Route 67 off Slaughterhouse Canyon Road, north of Santee and east of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
The scene presented several challenges for emergency personnel.
"Terrain's a big one," said Hale. "We didn't have the availability to get right to it. [Sheriff's helicopter] ASTREA was probably our best availability to getting up here."
Even for seasoned firefighters and emergency personnel, Hale said Saturday was a tough day.
"It takes a toll on the deputies that have to go in and check them for rescue and try and make a determination if they are beyond help," he said.
Firefighters had to use a power saw to cut into the wreckage in order to free the three people inside.
The Medical Examiner's Office says the 65-year-old man piloting the plane was from Phoenix. His passengers were his 53-year-old wife and his 19-year-old daughter. Their names have not been released.
10News was told there was a pet on board who died as well.
The plane had been reported missing earlier, Catano said.
Neither the FAA nor the NTSB released crash victims' identities. Gregor said a tail number for the plane could not be confirmed until next of kin have been notified.