Investigators prepared early Monday to cut through the mangled wreckage of a private plane that collided in mid-air with another small aircraft a day earlier, killing at least five.
The two Cessnas collided at 3:35 p.m. Sunday about a mile from the small Corona Municipal Airport and just north of the Riverside Freeway, Wayne Pollack of the National Transportation Safety Board said.
Two people were confirmed dead aboard one plane, a Cessna 172, but authorities did not know if there were more victims inside.
“Until we open that aircraft up, we cannot be certain how many people are onboard,” Pollack said.
Another two people were killed when they were ejected from the other plane, a smaller Cessna 150, Pollack said.
A fifth victim was inside a Chevy dealership that was hit by wreckage, he said.
Debris from the collision was contained mostly within a 300-yard radius, although some was found as far as 1,000 yards away, he said.
“There were bodies falling out of the sky,” eyewitness Hector Hernandez told KCBS-TV. “One of them crashed into the top of a Ford Mustang, and another one fell not too far behind that one on the parking lot.”
“The smaller aircraft … just disintegrated into pieces, maybe fifty pieces coming down,” eyewitness Jeff Hardin told KABC-TV. “The other aircraft pretty much stayed intact and started spiraling down and came down right behind the Nissan dealer.”
Witnesses on the ground saw the planes crash and called 911, said Corona Police Sgt. Jerry Pawluczenko.
The Cessna 172 is registered to William A. Reinke of La Habra, Calif, according to aircraft databases. Reached at his home Sunday night, Reinke declined to say who was flying his plane or who might have been on board.
“I only know what happened off the television,” he said.
The Corona airport does not have a staffed control tower, he said.
Before Sunday, there had been five fatal plane crashes in Corona in the past decade, killing 10 people, according to an NTSB database.