Update: Four Killed In Plane Crash At Watsonville Hospital

WATSONVILLE, Calif. (AP) — Federal investigators on Friday raised the death toll in a small plane crash into a Central California medical building, saying two adults and two children on the aircraft were killed.  Family members have identifed the victims as a family of four from Santa Cruz.

   Authorities initially reported that two people died in the Thursday night crash on the grounds of the Watsonville Community Hospital. The plane went into an unoccupied office building, and no one on the ground was hurt.

   Four bodies were found after authorities extracted the 1974 single-engine Mooney M20 from the building overnight, said Michael Huhn, the National Transportation Safety Board’s lead investigator at the scene.

   Officials have not released the names of the victims. KION-TV reported plane co-owner Chester Belknap of Santa Cruz told the station that the plane’s other owner, David Houghton, was with his wife, Dede and two children, 12-year-old Luke, 10-year-old Ryan, flying to a family reunion near Yosemite National Park.

   The pilot had just taken off from nearby Watsonville Municipal Airport when the plane went down around 7:30 p.m., Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Lynn Lunsford said.

   Witness Thomas Arnold was in the parking lot next to the hospital’s administration building when he heard the plane overhead. He told the Santa Cruz Sentinel that the plane came careening sideways across the parking lot about 15 feet above his head.

   “I saw two faces and two big sets of eyes,” said Arnold, whose fiancee was in labor inside the hospital.

   Another witness, George Benson, told the Sentinel that he watched the plane take off and saw the pilot appear to attempt to clear a line of fog. “He was heading toward the coast and tried to climb,” Benson said. “From the time he took off he was going too steep, too slow.”

   The plane went down into a parking lot in front of the medical office building and skidded about 50 to 75 yards before crashing into the building, Watsonville Deputy Police Chief Rudy Escalante said.

   Photos showed the charred tail end of the aircraft sticking out from the one-story building, part of which had been blackened by smoke. Damage appeared contained to an area at the end of the building.

   Escalante said the building appeared to be structurally sound despite the crash.

   Watsonville is located near Monterey Bay, about 90 miles south of San Francisco.

   (Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

Comments

One Comment

  1. VIC HANSEN says:

    My heart gos out to the family so sad

  2. Richard S. Hughey says:

    The cause of the crash was that the pilot ran out of altitude. Its too bad he took his family with him. I am a licensed aircraft mechanic and I have seen allot of this before. Don’t fly with anyone who doesn’t have a commerical ticket.

    1. pat says:

      Ran out of Altitude? man you really have no idea what your talking about. You can not run out of your height from the ground

      1. Whitey Joe Young says:

        It’s aviation speak, pat. He was in a stall-spin, and didn’t have enough altitude to recover, although witnesses say it looked as if the recovery was working and the plane was leveling off. I think it is YOU who have no idea what you’re talking about.

  3. gary says:

    I have never been up in a small 1 engine plane and never will …. everyweek there is another simular story.

  4. jackie says:

    Something was wrong with that plane, planes have mechanical problems just like cars do only difference of course the plane is in the sky and cannot pull over or stop.. it has happened in our family and happened to good friends.

  5. Pillot Chuck says:

    I am a private pilot and a licensed aircraft mechanic. And nowhere in this article did I read what rating the pilot held. Not did I read what part of the plane had mechanical problems. The NTSB will conduct their investigation and sometime around the end of the year, they will make a determination about what happened. Nobody who reads this article has the facts necessary to conclude the cause of this heartbreaking tragedy. Until the NTSB announces their finding, can we all please just pray for the family and friends of these four people and lay off the amateur detective work? Please? My prayers to all who are and will be affected by this. Pilot Chuck

    1. fournewangels says:

      Oh stop telling people what do do and how to do it Mr private pilot and licensed aircraft mechanic. If ya read the article you would have read where a witness stated the plane was not gaining altitude fast enough, doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that that means it would not climb like it should, it doesn’t give a dang what his rating is for peat sake no pilot would deliberately fly a plane that could not climb fast enough. Oh now I get it YOU must be the mechanic who worked on that plane

      1. Stan says:

        Okay Mr. Inexperienced pilot and unlicensed aircraft mechanic what caused the plane to not gain altitude fast enough then?

  6. Kirk says:

    I got the impression that he didn’t have enough airspeed to sustain his rate of climb and he stalled out. Why that happened will come out in the investigation. No I’m not a pilot nor a mechanic…I do understand the basics of flight.

    1. spinout says:

      Kirk, that is the most intelligent comment posted so far!

  7. Mreros says:

    Flew USMC helo aircrew in Vietnam (67-68). The older i get, the less chances i want to take. This tragic incident is reason # 12 in a series why I would not get in a small, single engine craft.

  8. rmcsticks says:

    Im a pilot and no one will ever know what really happened , the NTSB will put it together as best they can . I have put planes into stalls when I was learning to fly it is part of the training and I will tell you this it is one of the scarest things you will ever do , if you do not have enought altitude there is no recovering and I don’t care if you have a commerical ticket or not you will not recover ! once a plane stalls you must put the plane into a wing over and into a dive to get air passing over the wing serface to get back into a fly mode, this could take as much as 2 thousand ft of altiude. The NTSB im sure is going to find the plane was over loaded with people and personal gear and that is so sad.

    1. Whitey Joe Young says:

      It’s a month later and the preliminary report has been issued. It’s pretty clear what you say is what happened. The pilot was trying to climb too steeply in an attempt to clear the low marine layer sitting in wait at the end of the field, as it frequently does in the early evening. The plane stalled, and the pilot tried to recover. These facts seem to be in evidence now that the preliminary report has been issued.

      I am a pilot, a physicist, a certified FAA instructor…. most small plane crashes are caused by ignorance and/or arrogance, resulting in pilot error. Mechanical failures account for a very, very small number of accidents. Running out of fuel and flying into bad weather account for a good 70-80% of all accident causes.

      Your chances of getting hurt in a small plane will depend almost totally on the judgment (not skill) of the pilot in command of the aircraft. In this case, the pilot had just recently received his private pilots license (the lowest grade of license), and he had practiced and trained in the aircraft in question. But, in this case, it’s quite likely that the full load of passengers, and probably some luggage as well, took him by surprise when he cranked in a lot of back pressure on the wheel, and the Mooney, now heavily weighted down by comparison to the training flights, didn’t respond as he anticipated. In a classic failure to evenly divide attention between competing concerns, he lost track of his airspeed while trying to get over the fog bank. That precipitated the stall-spin.

      This doesn’t require rocket science. As Mr. Hughey said, we see this stuff all the time. It is a very common trap: taking off in hot weather, or at high altitude airports, or with a full load, and the pilot gets taken by surprise by the airplane’s lack of performance — relative to their training flight experiences with just an instructor, at sea level and 70 degrees.

      Sadly, aviation is rarely very forgiving of any mistake made close to the ground.

  9. Bru says:

    DeDe was a childhood friend of mine and this was a horrible, tragic accident, maybe those of you passing judgement should take a step back….if it were your friend or family would u be making these ignorant statements.

    1. Whitey Joe Young says:

      Bru… this is a horrible tragic accident, and I too have lost friends when the pilot crashed his plane into a mountain right near Watsonville. I knew the pilot and he was arrogant and careless, not respectful of the risks involved in exceeding your own limits.

      The pilot in command of the plane is where the buck stops. I think it’s clear the cause was pilot error. It is very tragic, but it’s especially so because it was 1100% avoidable. It’s tragic for DeDe and the kids, and it gives general aviation yet another black mark caused by pilot carelessness or incompetence. It’s negligent homicide; there’s no other way to put it.

      I lost friends in a similar way. Why wouldn’t people be angry at the mistake of one causing the death of four? It’s a horrible, horrible tragedy. I’m outraged. As a pilot and an instructor, I’m deeply saddened knowing it was preventable.

  10. cadreamer says:

    Bru-so sorry for your loss. I met DeDe about ten years ago when I lived in Santa Cruz. I went in to Aqua Safaris to inquire about scuba lessons and was immediately struck with how amazingly warm and kind she was. She continued to send me emails over the past ten years, and I was so saddened to hear of her and her family’s passing.😦 What a loss.

    For those of you self righteously passing judgement. You are NOT the NTSB. It is very presumptuous of you to make comments about a dad, friend, and wonderful person insinuating he was negligent. That’s a very loaded presumption and is VERY disrespectful to the family and all their friends. So let the professionals figure out the cause of the accident. Don’t make this your platform for being righteous. You should use that energy to pay condolences to the Houghton family.

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