Medical school professor and wife die when small plane crashes in Santee

SANTEE, Calif. – A professor of medicine at U.C. Irvine and his wife died Tuesday when their light plane crashed shortly after taking off from Gillespie Field airport in El Cajon.

Dr. John Longhurst and his wife Cherril were flying the single-engine, four-seat Cessna 182 Skylane with their two dogs on board when it  lost power and went down at Cuyamaca Street and Prospect Avenue in Santee shortly before 7 a.m. No one on the ground was hurt.

Two dogs that were riding in the plane survived the impact and were taken to a veterinary hospital for treatment, Santee Fire Chief Richard Smith told news crews. One of the animals seemingly was uninjured.

The Cessna was headed west when its engine apparently failed, Smith said. As the pilot seemingly made a futile attempt to return to the airport, the plane wheeled around, then descended precipitously and plunged into the industrial yard northwest of Gillespie Field.

Witness Zachary Hill told reporters that he and his sister saw the aircraft go down and rushed to help, but found that the front of the Cessna had been utterly "destroyed.''

Though physically unharmed, a person who was in the storage yard when the plane crashed nearby was "shaken up'' from what he saw, Smith said.

Crews with the Santee Fire Department and Heartland Fire & Rescue worked to contain a fuel spill near the wreckage.

Personnel from the Federal Aviation Administration were sent to the scene of the crash to document evidence. The government probe into what went wrong -- like all official inquiries into airplane crashes in the country -- will be handled by the National Transportation Safety Board.