Witnesses described “huge flames” and “dark smoke” in newly released 911 audio calls minutes after the two planes collided midair south of San Diego Sunday morning.
“I see two planes have just collided mid-stride and came down on the ground. There’s flames and fire everywhere,” one man said when he called dispatchers.
Five people were killed when a twin-engine Sabreliner and single-engine Cessna 172 collided at approximately 11 a.m. Sunday morning, officials said.
In several frantic 911 calls released to NBC7, witnessed told dispatchers of a midair explosion they heard near the border and the flames to follow. This is the first time NBC7 has heard from multiple witnesses of the crash.
“Yes, I just saw a huge explosion behind East Lake High School. . .It’s up in the air right now,” one caller said.
“There was a huge flame and dark smoke,” he added.
A caller from the Otay Mesa Border Entry called in to report seeing the flames, telling dispatchers “we just had a midair collision.”
“As I’m looking to my left side where all the fields are, either an aircraft or something exploded in the air and crash landed into a mountain and is catching fire into the brush,” a woman who called 911 said.
The fiery collision ignited several brush fires nearby which were quickly put out by ground and air crews. Debris was spattered across two circular crash sites at least a mile apart.
The Sabreliner involved in the crash was leased by military contractor BAE Systems on a mission training flight and the Cessna involved was on a cross-country trip, NTSB investigator Andrew Swick.
Carlos Palos, John Kovach and Jeff Percy died after the Sabreliner they were traveling in crashed, according to their employer BAE Systems. The pilot of the Cessna was identified as Michael A. Copeland of San Diego. The fifth remaining victim has not been identified.
"BAE Systems was alerted this afternoon that a small aircraft carrying its employees collided with another," the company said in a statement to NBC7, adding that its "employees and their families are our first priority and we are prepared to offer all our support."
NBC 7 has reached out to the families of the victims. Percy's mother sent us this statement: "He was the sweetest son you could ever ask for and he was an excellent pilot."
Both planes were approaching Brown Field Municipal Airport, a local airport close to the U.S.-Mexico border, said FAA spokesman Ian Gregor.
The details of the crash are under investigation by the FAA and NTSB.