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3 dead in California plane crash; passengers were returning from cheerleading competition

What we know about the Calif. small plane crash (Video: Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

A plane carrying five people plunged into two homes Monday in Riverside, Calif., killing at least three of the passengers and injuring two others, authorities said.

The passengers were returning to San Jose after a weekend cheerleading competition at Disneyland when the plane crashed shortly before 4:45 p.m., setting two homes ablaze, Riverside Fire Chief Michael Moore said in a news conference. The cause of the crash was not immediately clear.

Two adult women in their late 30s were transported from the site of the crash to area hospitals for medical treatment. Authorities believe that none of the residents of the damaged homes were injured in the crash, Moore said.

One woman, who was ejected from the plane, survived with minor injuries. An additional victim was pulled from the rubble was transported to a hospital in “very critical condition” and unconscious, Moore said. She was undergoing surgery Monday night.

Moore initially said the plane had been carrying three teenagers, but later said he was not sure of the ages of those on board. Authorities also had said four people had died, but later corrected the number to three.

Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim hosted the United Spirit Association Jr. Nationals cheerleading competition on Saturday and Sunday.

“This is supposedly a happy time and then just to have a tragic incident like this …,” Moore said, “It’s really just a sad case for us.”

The plane, a Cessna 310, crashed about a half-mile northeast of the Riverside Municipal Airport and had just taken off, airport manager Kim Ellis told the Orange County Register. A witness saw the plane make a turn, then nosedive, the Orange County Register reported. Neighbors told the newspaper the crash felt like an earthquake that was followed by a “big orange ball of fire.”

The plane split as it rammed into the residential neighborhood. The crash completely destroyed two homes, scorched a car and scattered debris at least a half mile away. The entire block — an estimated 20 houses on each side of the street — were evacuated so that the National Transportation Safety Board could investigate.

Sixty firefighters responded to the scene, and a shelter was set up at a nearby community center. The local American Red Cross chapter provided services to five families by Monday night, and had begun helping the nearby residents with recovery efforts, chapter spokesman Tony Briggs said.

“We are continuing to look for live victims as we go,” Moore said, adding that some of the wreckage continued to burn Monday evening because of the large amount of fuel spilled during the crash. He said the pilot had a full tank of fuel upon take off.

The residents of one of the destroyed homes returned to the area from a family event Monday night and confirmed that no one was in the home when the plane crashed, Moore said. But they were not able to reach their home due because the scene had been blocked off.

“They will be pretty devastated to see that their house is pretty much a total loss,” Moore said. The residents of the other torched house had not yet returned by Monday night, he added.

One witness, Brian Marsh, told the Orange County Register that he saw the plane dive as he was driving west.

“It made a turn and the wings were almost perpendicular to the ground. It looked like a stunt plane,” he said. “All of a sudden it turned into a free fall.”

“Flames were everywhere,” he added. “Smoke was billowing out.”

Marvinus Johnson, 31, and Breonna Johnson, 27, who live two houses to the right of where the plane crashed, told the Orange County Register a wing of the plane crashed into their house, and the impact blew out their front two windows.

When Marvinus Johnson ran outside to help, he joined another man in helping pull the pilot, a woman, out of the wreckage. They laid her across the street, and she said her daughter and four other people were inside the plane.

“We were holding her and all she kept saying was, ‘My daughter, my daughter,'” Marvinus Johnson said.

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