El Cajon

Four People Killed in Fiery Plane Crash Near El Cajon

The cause of the crash is unclear and is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board

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Four people were onboard a Learjet that crashed and left a trail of fiery wreckage on a suburban street near El Cajon, the FAA said Tuesday.

The San Diego Sheriff’s Department said the Learjet 35A crashed shortly after 7 p.m. in the Bostonia area of unincorporated El Cajon as it was approaching Gillespie Field. The plane departed earlier from John Wayne Airport in Orange County.

NBC 7's Brooke Martell has the latest details from the Federal Aviation Administration into a small jet plane crash near Gillespie Field in El Cajon.

Firefighters did not find any survivors at the crash scene, but no injuries or fatalities were reported from people on the ground. One home was damaged.

Neighbors described what looked like a bright light and then a large explosion. One resident said flames reached so high in the air, it looked like a "bright fireball."

Firefighters doused several small fires along a street littered with debris and downed power lines. A fuel leak prompted a call out for a Hazardous Materials clean-up crew.

The National Transportation Safety Board has sent three investigators to look into the cause of the crash.

The agency on Tuesday released their initial findings stating that as the pilot was approaching Runway 17 using an instrument approach method, the pilot asked air traffic control for a visual approach to Runway 27R.

Moments after air traffic control gave the pilot the go-ahead, the airplane crashed into the neighborhood about 1.4 miles from the end of the runway, the NTSB said.

Radio communications captured the moment between the pilot and the air traffic controller. Shortly after the pilot attempted to make his descent, he can be heard yelling moments before the crash.

The agency is working to recover the plane's cockpit voice recorder, which will be transferred to a lab in Washington, D.C. for investigation and possible transcript release.

Also on Tuesday, the FAA confirmed in a preliminary report that there were two crew members and two passengers killed in the crash.

In a separate report, the National Transportation Safety Board said the Learjet 35A was on an instrument approach to Runway 17 at Gillespie just before crashing at 7:14 p.m. However, as the aircraft drew near the airport, the pilot asked to switch to a visual approach to Runway 27R, and was quickly granted approval.

The plane, however, came down 1.4 miles from the beginning of the runway, according to the NTSB.

The NTSB's final report on the crash, "including the probable cause and any contributing factors, is expected to be completed in 12 to 24 months," officials said.

NBC 7's Jackie Crea is in Lakeside where the small plane crash was reported nearby.

Behnan Jibu, who witnessed the crash from his relatives' home and is a first responder in Canada, said he tried to hump into action at the crash site but could tell there were no survivors.

Matt Celustka told NBC 7 San Diego he heard a plane fly particularly low and was just waiting to hear an impact.

"I heard the pops and I just knew at that point that the plane had gone down. And I was worried if it hit any houses," said Celustka. "I went outside, out front, with a couple of neighbors just to see, and all I could see were flames in front of a couple houses, up at the top of the street."

Briauajanee Vailes said their whole house shook.

"I thought it hit our house because the way our power went out and how my mom was reacting it was terrifying," Vailes said. "It sounded like something hit our house on top because I heard the whole electricity through the house go 'zzzz." It look like this whole part was on fire, just the way it looked, so we was like ‘We need to get out. We can’t stay here.’

The Bostonia neighborhood is used to plane noise because of their proximity to the airport but this one sounded different, Lauren Watling said.

"Normally they get loud because we live right by the airport, but it got really, really loud and all of the sudden, we think it could’ve hit our power lines above our house, but we just saw bright blue and orange flashing lights and we heard the electricity running.

"And then after that, we heard the plane actually crash," she continued. "We ran out immediately and there was a ton of smoke everywhere. All we saw was fire and smoke."

NBC 7's Mark Mullen spoke with a former NTSB investigator and author of "Air Safety Iinvestigators" about the next steps in determining what happened in the deadly crash.

The plane also took out multiple power poles as it crashed. According to San Diego Gas & Electric's outage map, 2,000 customers at one point were without power, although the vast majority had power restored Tuesday morning.

Pepper Drive will remain closed between Topper Lane and North 2nd Street through Wednesday while the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigates the scene.

In October, a small plane crashed into a residential street in Santee, leaving the pilot and a UPS driver dead.

After that crash, NBC 7 Investigates scoured through more than 120 NTSB investigation reports and dug up at least 35 plane or helicopter crashes into San Diego County neighborhoods since 2010.

In those crashes, 30 people died and 20 others were seriously injured.

The airport connected to the lion’s share of those crashes is Gillespie Field in El Cajon – there have been at least 16 crashes in surrounding neighborhoods. After that comes Montgomery-Gibbs in Kearny Mesa with at least nine.

Gillespie is one of the busiest small aircraft airports in the San Diego area with between 600 and 800 flights per day.

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