On Monday, cardiologist Dr. Sugata Das was flying from Yuma, Arizona, to San Diego, California, in his Cessna C340. He’d made many similar journeys before, but this time something went wrong.
Around 12:15 p.m., the plane nose-dived into a Santee neighborhood, the wing clipping a UPS truck and killing the driver. The body of the plane then slammed into two houses, exploding and setting them both on fire.
Neighbors were immediately shaken by the impact, and many ran outside to see what had happened. One of the houses the plane had hit was empty, but the other was not.
Michael Keeley was one of the locals who ran to help the older couple whose home had been hit. Keeley helped the wife out the window and said her arms were burned and her hair was singed.
“She kept saying, ‘My puppy, my puppy,'” Keely told KNSD.
Two other neighbors started yanking boards off the fence when they spotted the husband walking around in the backyard, also burned but alive.
“Both were definitely in shock, but at least they were alive,” said one of the rescuers, neighbor Erik Huppert.
The two were taken to the hospital and treated for their injuries.
The empty house that was also destroyed belonged to newlyweds Cody and Courtney, who were at work at the time of the accident. They had bought the house in June and had finally finished remodeling it — literally the day before the plane hit it.
“They just finished remodel yesterday,” Breana King, a relative, told KGTV.
While all their earthly possessions and the home they hoped to start their lives in were destroyed, the couple’s dog was safe as it had been staying with family that day.
“Obviously relief, they are both okay, their dog is okay, but overall, it’s traumatic,” King continued. “It could have been different; we’re just really lucky.”
Dr. Das also died in the accident, which is under investigation. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bharat Magu at the Yuma Regional Medical Center where Das worked issued a statement following the tragedy.
“We are deeply sad to hear news of a plane owned by local cardiologist Dr. Sugata Das, which crashed near Santee,” he said, according to KNSD.
“As an outstanding cardiologist and dedicated family man, Dr. Das leaves a lasting legacy. We extend our prayers and support to his family, colleagues and friends during this difficult time.”
In all, two lives have been confirmed lost, two people were hospitalized, two homes were destroyed and five more houses were damaged. Authorities are unsure if anyone else died in the accident, noting that the plane could seat up to six and the scene was a difficult one to navigate.
“It’s a pretty brutal scene for our guys, and we’re trying to comb through it,” Santee Fire Department Deputy Fire Chief Justin Matsushita said, according to KNSD.
“We do not yet know how many people were on board,” said Donnell Evans, a spokesman with the Federal Aviation Administration, in an email to KNSD. “The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board will investigate. The NTSB will be in charge of the investigation and will provide additional updates.”
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