SANTEE, Calif. – Two people and a dog died in a small plane crash in Santee Tuesday morning, according to Heartland Fire officials.
The crash site was in the 9700 block of Prospect Avenue, about 1,000 feet from Gillespie Field. Authorities received a call about the Cessna crash just before 7 a.m.
The Cessna was headed west when its engine apparently failed, Santee Fire Chief Richard 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.
A man who lives near the crash site described what he heard.
“He was going around and around. The motor sounded fine -- could be a lot of mechanical issues," said Randy Chenowth.
The two people did not survive the crash. Their two dogs were taken to a local animal hospital. One of the dogs ended up dying due to its injuries.
Fox 5 confirmed the victims are Dr. John C. Longhurst and his wife, Cherril. They are the plane's registered owners from Montana.
The couple once lived in Escondido and Dr. Longhurst was on the faculty at UC Irvine Medical School.
Authorities initially reported a possible third person was missing, but determined that was not the case and ended their search.
Alexis Hill was driving when she and her brother watched the plane come out of the fog. The plane appeared to be having trouble.
"The plane was swerving and started coming down toward our car," she said. "It swerved over to the construction site and went head down."
There was dense fog in the area at the time of the crash, a witness told FOX 5.
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.
Six months earlier, a different small plane crashed on North 2nd Street and El Rey Avenue near Gillespie Field and the two people aboard survived.