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Plane crash scatters fiery wreckage across El Cajon-area neighborhood; 4 occupants presumed dead

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Posted at 8:09 PM, Dec 27, 2021

EL CAJON, Calif. (KGTV) — Four people are presumed dead after the plane they were in crashed in the El Cajon neighborhood of Bostonia late Monday night and left a trail of fiery wreckage scattered in front of homes and hundreds of residents without power.

The crash was reported just after 7 p.m. near the intersection of the 1200 block of Pepper Dr. and N. Mollison Ave. in El Cajon, according to the San Diego County Sheriff's Department (SDSO).

Resident Andelina Ciampi said, "We felt like this giant boom like shake up our whole entire house. I thought it was an earthquake or a boulder from this hill coming down."

A Federal Aviation Administration official confirmed in a statement Tuesday that there were four people aboard the Learjet 35A business jet that departed John Wayne Airport in Orange County and was on its way to Gillespie Field.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the Learjet was on an instrument approach to Runway 17 at Gillespie Field, when the pilot requested a change to a visual approach to Runway 27R.

Shortly after air traffic control cleared the plane to land, the aircraft crashed about 1.4 miles from the approach end of the runway, according to NTSB.

According to SDSO officials, Lakeside Fire District crews at the crash scene reported no one on the ground was hurt. Some neighbors told ABC10News they believe the pilot is the reason there were no injuries reported among residents.

Resident Susana Deanda said of the pilot, “He gave his life to protect everybody else. And he's a hero. In my eyes, he's a hero.“

Lakeside Fire District said that the crash threw debris across Pepper Dr. At least one home and one vehicle were damaged by some debris. Video from the scene sent to ABC 10News showed a trail of flames along the street in the neighborhood.

SDG&E confirmed to ABC 10News that power lines were down in the area due to the crash. According to the agency's outage map, the downed lines left more than 600 customers in the area without power shortly after the incident.

The American Red Cross provided help to residents that were impacted by the power outage.

While rain was reported in the county during the time of the crash, it wasn't clear if the weather was a factor. The FAA said the NTSB is the main agency handling the investigation.

The Learjet 35A was equipped with a cockpit voice recorder but it did not have a flight data recorder. Investigators said they will be working to identify and recover the voice recorder and send it to NTSB headquarters for examination.

Investigators expect to be at the scene for the next three days. NTSB said a preliminary report of the investigation is expected to be available in the next several weeks, with a final report expected in 1 to 2 years.

Authorities are asking anyone with photos or video of the crash to email witness@ntsb.gov.

According to the FAA’s website, the plane may have been used for medical-related purposes.

The crash comes more than two months after a plane crashed in a Santee neighborhood, killing two people. That crash occurred just miles north of Monday's crash in El Cajon.

On Tuesday, ABC 10News spoke to David Evans, an FAA aviation expert and flight instructor with more than 20 years of experience. “It looked like a very steep descent into a very fiery crash which is very, very unfortunate,” he told ABC 10News. When asked about the Learjet, he said, “It’s a complex jet aircraft and it’s designed for highly skilled pilots, and they fly fast.” 

Evans added that it will likely take the NTSB a few weeks to release a preliminary cause for the crash. A definitive cause could take a year. He added, “The NTSB will look into the accident itself [and] probable cause. They’ll look at videos such as the one that we’ve already observed. They’ll talk to eyewitnesses and get their accounts. They’ll go through the flight logs of the aircraft when they’re available- the maintenance logs, to see if there were any maintenance anomalies. They’ll look at the qualifications of the pilot.”