A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigating the deadly plane crash in Santee offers a time-stamped communication log between the pilot and Air Traffic Control that, along with audio of their communication leading up to the crash, shows something was amiss in the cockpit.
The report details time-stamped back-and-forth between the controller and the pilot, Dr. Sugata Das. Just three minutes and 30 seconds elapsed between the controller clearing Dr. Das to approach the runway and Das' last response, according to the report.
About a minute after Das' final response, his plane touched down on Greencastle Street, hit a UPS truck and burst into flames as it slid into two homes.
The Final Moments
Read the full report here.
- 12:09:20: The controller instructs Das to turn right toward his landing approach path. Das acknowledged while at an altitude of 3,900 feet.
- 12:09:48: Das asks the controller if he is cleared to continue to the approach path but the controller doesn't respond.
- 12:10:04: The controller tells Das he is 4 miles from PENNY intersection and instructs him to descend to 2,800 feet until established on the localizer, and cleared him the approach path. Das partially read back the clearance, followed by the controller restating the approach clearance. Das acknowledged the clearance a second time.
- 12:11:19: The controller told Das it looked like his airplane (22G) was drifting right of course and asked him if he was correcting. Das responded and stated “correcting, 22G.”
- 12:11:28: Das said [unintelligible], VFR 23, to which the controller told Das he was not on the right approach path and canceled the approach clearance. The controller followed by issuing instructions to climb and maintain 3,000 ft, followed by the issuance of a low altitude alert, and stated that the minimum vectoring altitude in the area was 2,800 ft. Das acknowledged the controller’s instructions. At that time, ADS-B data showed the airplane at an altitude of 2,400 feet.
- 12:12:12: The controller instructs Das to climb and maintain 3,800, to which Das responded “3,800 22G.” ADS-B data showed that the airplane was at 3,550 feet.
- 12:12:21: The controller instructs Das to turn right to 90° for vectors to final, to which the pilot responded “090 22G."
- 12:12:54: The controller instructed Das to turn right to 090° and climb immediately and maintain 4,000 ft. Das acknowledged the controller’s instructions. About three seconds after Das' response the controller told Das that it looked like he was descending and that he needed to make sure he was climbing. Das Acknowledged.
- 12:13:35: The controller asks Das about his altitude. Das responds 2,500 feet. The controller issued a low altitude alert and tells Das to expedite the climb to 5,000 feet.
- No further communication was received from Das despite multiple queries from the controller. ADS-B data showed that the airplane continued a right descending turn until the last recorded target, located about 1,333 feet northwest of the accident site at an altitude of 1,250 feet.
Das' plane went down at around 12:15 p.m. three blocks away from Santana High School. Das, and UPS Driver Steve Krueger were killed in the crash. Phil and Maria Morris, who were in their home on Greencastle Street when the plane smashed into it, suffered second and third-degree burns all over their bodies.
The plane was headed to San Diego from Yuma, Arizona. It was supposed to land at Montgomery-Gibbs Executive Airport in Kearny Mesa, according to the flight plan. It is unclear if Das was attempting to make an emergency landing at Gillespie Field in Santee, which is just a few miles from where the plane crashed.
Photos: Small Plane Crashes in Santee, California
Santee Witnesses Describe the Crash
Michael Keeley 43, ran barefoot outside when his home shook. He saw the UPS truck in flames and found two neighbors at a burning home calling through an open window.
With thick smoke inside the neighbors' home and flames licking the roof, Keeley stood on a rock and reached through to grab the woman's arm and help her climb out of the window. Her forearms were burned, and her hair was singed.
“She kept saying, ‘My puppy, my puppy,’” Keeley said.
Pelloth lives across the street from the retired couple and saw the house and the delivery truck engulfed in flames. Mangled ruins of vehicles were in the couple's driveway.
Erik Huppert, 57, rushed to the couple’s home after his house shook. He joined Pelloth to pull boards off the fence to save the husband, who was walking in the backyard.
The woman and her husband were burned on their arms but were still able to walk and talk, Pelloth said.
“Both were definitely in shock, but at least they were alive,” said Huppert, a military contractor.
Read more from heroes and witnesses here.
The Crash Scene in Santee
At least two homes were destroyed by fire, with crews fighting the flames with water cannons and also trying to cool down other buildings nearby. Two or three other houses were also damaged, Santee Deputy Fire Chief Matsushita said.
Several charred vehicles were also visible at the crash site.
Matsushita said power had been cut off to 10 homes in the neighborhood while first responders worked the scene. Deputies with the San Diego Sheriff's Department said that a temporary evacuation point was set up by the Cameron Family YMCA at 10123 Riverwalk Dr. in Santee.
Hours after the crash, SkyRanger 7 flying overhead captured devastating scenes, with the two homes reduced to ashes and framing timbers, firefighting foam and wet earth surrounding both structures. The charred wreckage of the Cessna lay broken behind one of the houses. Dozens of people stood around the somber scene, most in bright-yellow vests or their firefighter turnout gear.
Officials said Jeremy Street between 2nd Street and Mast Boulevard was closed to traffic; North Magnolia Avenue between 2nd Street and Mast Boulevard was also closed for hours.
Santana High School, which is part of the Grossmont Union High School District, is a few blocks west of the crash site and just north of the airport at Gillespie Field.
Shortly before 12:30 p.m., school officials tweeted out that no students had been harmed when the plane came down and that the campus was secured. About a half-hour later, they said the campus had been returned to its normal status and that students were either on their lunch break or were being released for the day if they had no more classes.
The crash near Gillespie is not the first in Santee; three years ago, two people and a dog were killed when an aircraft came down in Santee in February. According to the NTSB, there have been four fatal plane crashes in the East County community, including the one in 2018. Six people have died in the incidents.
The Associated Press contributed to this story -- Ed.