One woman is dead and another was injured after a private plane clipped a department store just west of Montgomery Field and crashed into an adjacent commercial parking lot Wednesday, police said.
The Mooney M20L went down in a parking lot that serves a Costco and a Target store in the 7800 block of Othello Avenue in Kearny Mesa about 5:30 p.m. after a landing attempt at the municipal airport went awry, according to the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department and Federal Aviation Administration.
Witnesses described an all-out rescue effort by store employees and passersby, rushing in amid a small fire after the crash.
"Jumped on top of airplane, crashed through windows and pulled the two pilots out as quick as they could," said Ralph Samuel, a service manager at the nearby Costco.
Firefighters quickly extinguished the small fire, SDFRD spokesman Lee Swanson said.
Many witnesses tried to help, and fire officials say at least one of them suffered minor cuts and burns. Medics transported the pilot, a woman in her 50s, and her passenger to a trauma center for treatment of "major" injuries, he said.
The San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed that the passenger, a 78-year-old married woman from San Diego, died at the hospital after “aggressive lifesaving efforts.”
San Diego police Sgt. Steve Behrendt confirmed the pilot suffered major injuries. No names were immediately released.
10News learned the plane is registered to William Logan. One of his relatives told 10News his wife and her mother were on the plane.
Behrendt says the plane clipped the top of the Target store and knocked down a light pole before landing.
Ian Gregor of the FAA says the plane had bounced while landing at Montgomery Field, continued westbound and crashed.
According to witnesses, there were signs of trouble from the very beginning. Many saw the plane almost immediately after takeoff.
"Almost hit the extension wire and then I saw her going down," said a witness.
Vince Carter, a helicopter pilot, was training around Montgomery Field and his chopper was the closest aircraft to the plane.
He remembers seeing it while it was still in the air, but seconds later, he heard the distress call.
"We heard the call and it was not something you easily forget," Carter said.
10News obtained the radio communication between the pilot and the air traffic control tower and the exchange is chilling.
"Oh my God, I'm not getting any altitude here," the pilot says.
The air traffic controller then tells her to go full throttle.
"I'm full throttle," she says.
But apparently that was not enough. The desperation in the pilot's voice is unnerving.
"I'm going down," the pilot says.
Carter landed his helicopter and rushed over to the crash scene. What he saw shocked him.
"The right wing is crumpled but she's definitely flat so she probably stalled out trying to avoid all this stuff and landed in the only possible place she could land … luckily avoiding all this, all the cars, all the people," he said.
Carter said that sometimes, it does not even matter how much training or experience you have.
"We do as much as we can to be safe but things do happen, it's out of our control," he said.
Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board officials were on scene Thursday examining the crash site. The NTSB said a private recovery team from Phoeniz, AZ, would be coming in to clean up the debris. A basic preliminary report would be posted at ntsb.gov within a week or two. However, NTSB investigators typically take months to come up with a probable cause, officials said.