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2 hurt when plane crashes onto Calif. church parking lot, falls down ravine

Heartland Fire Capt. Sonny Saghera said it looked like the pilot found a small space to avoid hitting the church and houses


A FAA investigator takes a photo of the scene were a small plane crashed through fence at the Lake Murray Community Church.

K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune

Kristen Taketa
The San Diego Union-Tribune

A small airplane crashed into a church parking lot and down a ravine in La Mesa Sunday afternoon, injuring the two men onboard the aircraft, a Heartland Fire official said.

The plane crashed at about 3 p.m. into a chain-link fence bordering a parking lot of the evangelical Lake Murray Community Church on Lake Murray Boulevard near Marengo Avenue, according to Heartland spokesperson Andy McKellar. The plane then fell down an embankment behind the parking lot, he said.

The plane was a single-engine Cessna 185 that had departed from Montgomery-Gibbs Executive Airport, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The pilot and his passenger were described as being “approximately 50 years old” and they both exited the plane before emergency crews arrived, McKellar said.

The plane did not explode or catch fire, but it was “pretty banged up,” McKellar said.

Firefighters said one of the injured men was able to walk up the steep hill with help from firefighters; the other had to be transported on a wire mesh stretcher using pulleys and ropes, McKellar said. Both were taken to a hospital.

No one was in the parking lot at the time of the crash, and no other injuries were reported, McKellar said.

Fire Capt. Sonny Saghera told reporters, including OnScene TV, that the incident “could have been a lot worse.”

“It looks like the pilots may have been able to find this small area of space,” Saghera said, referring to the parking lot and ravine. “And luckily they missed houses and the church.”

The aircraft will remain as-is until federal officials come out to begin an investigation into the cause of the crash, McKellar said.

The National Transportation Safety Board and FAA are investigating the crash. The FAA is expected to release a preliminary incident report on Monday.

Lake Murray resident John Gillihan said he was standing in his backyard when saw the plane descending. He saw it make a sharp turn at a low altitude and heard the plane’s engine making a loud revving noise, as if it was struggling to make the turn, he said.

“I was alarmed,” he said.

He said shortly after the plane crashed he heard a loud alarm go off.

The plane took out some nearby power lines and cut power to hundreds of homes and businesses in the area. As of 6:30 p.m., about 500 customers in the area were still without power. It was unclear if all the outages were caused by the plane crash. San Diego Gas & Electric said on its outage map that it expected repairs to be completed by 8 p.m.

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.

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