LOS ANGELES — Residents in a Yorba Linda, Calif., neighborhood were making their final preparations for Super Bowl parties Sunday afternoon when terror came crashing from the sky.
A Cessna 414 had just taken off from Fullerton Municipal Airport when the plane slammed into the suburban neighborhood at 1:45 p.m.
Neighbor Nancy Mehl, 65, was in her kitchen when she heard what sounded like the high-pitched whine of a plane preparing for takeoff.
She said she could sense that something bad was about to happen, so she grabbed her two Labradors and sprinted to the far back corner of her house on Crestknoll Drive. Her husband, Jim, took cover elsewhere in their home of 12 years.
“And then it felt like a bomb went off through the front of the house,” Mehl said.
“One of the first things I did when I saw the damage,” she said, “was get on my knees and thank God. Talk about being spared.”
A piece of the plane’s engine had knocked down a pillar on the front porch, ricocheted and torpedoed through a first-floor window with such momentum that it flew through two rooms before landing in a bathroom. Fragments of exhaust pipe crashed through a second-floor window and melted into the carpet. A propeller thumped onto the driveway.
The crash killed five people and engulfed one home.
Two men and two women were killed inside the burning home, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department said. The pilot was the plane’s sole occupant.
Two other people were taken to a hospital with mild to moderate burns, said fire Capt. Cameron Rossman, a spokesman for the Orange County Fire Authority. A firefighter suffered a minor ankle injury, he said.
The cause of the crash is still under investigation.
Sarah Ahern was blow-drying her 7-year-old daughter’s hair for a Super Bowl party when she felt the ground shake beneath her feet.
She scooped up her daughter and 9-year-old son and took cover in the hallway of their home. The house shook.
“It’s an earthquake,” Ahern yelled out to her husband.
Then came at least two explosions.
“No, a plane crashed into our neighbor’s house,” her husband said. “A plane is on fire. Call 911!”
“Are they OK? Can you get people out of the house?” their daughter asked.
There was nothing she or her husband could do.
“The whole house, I mean within a matter of seconds, was burning,” Ahern said.
They didn’t know whether anyone was in the home. Her husband ran outside and grabbed a hose to try to put out the fire.
A flaming plane wing landed in Ahern’s front yard and continued to burn, but the rain helped put it out.
Radar showed the plane took a left turn after takeoff and began its rapid descent 10 miles into the trip, National Transportation Safety Board investigator Eliott Simpson said at an evening news conference.
The main cabin of the airplane landed in a ravine behind someone’s home, according to officials. Most of the wreckage, which spanned four blocks, is expected to be recovered by Monday night and sent to a storage facility in Phoenix to be examined, Simpson said.
Joshua Nelson, 28, said he was about to take a nap when he heard a shrill whistling sound and a loud bang outside his home on Crestknoll Drive. He hopped out of bed, ran out the front door and saw a plume of black smoke.
Nelson began recording a video on his phone before he had any clue what was going on. He soon learned that a propeller had landed in the front yard of a house three doors down, smashing windows but not harming anyone inside. Seven doors down, a house was on fire.
Nelson said he wasn’t used to seeing many of his neighbors in his quiet community. But when the plane crashed, residents seemed to spill out of their homes in unison.
Nelson’s family canceled its Super Bowl party.
“I would never expect anything like this to happen here,” he said.