SANTEE, Calif. – Michael Keeley was working Monday in his East County home when he heard the crash. Too severe to be a firework, it rumbled his house and forced him to his feet.
And soon, the shouts of a neighbor left him with little doubt of his next move.
“I heard a neighbor yell, ‘A plane just crashed,'” said Keeley, who works as a San Diego County probation officer. “So, I turned and looked. I live just west of here, three houses down. I saw the smoke and I just took off running. I’m in bare feet, but I don’t care. I just took off running.”
The aircraft, a twin-engine Cessna, crashed about 12:15 p.m. at the intersection of Jeremy and Greencastle streets in Santee, local firefighters say. At least two people, including a UPS employee, were killed in the crash with authorities not yet knowing how many were aboard the plane. Their injuries were believed to be “nonsurvivable,” according to Santee Fire Department Battalion Chief Justin Matsushita.
Two homes were destroyed as a result of the crash, as many as three other homes were damaged and it left behind a debris field spanning the entire block, authorities said.
Upon seeing the front of one home engulfed in flames, Keeley said he and several neighbors found a side window that wasn’t burning to see if anybody was still inside. They called out and a woman’s voice responded, desperately in search of her missing dog.
Video from a witness shows Keeley and others helping the woman out of the window while a thick plume of dark smoke can be seen emanating from the front of the house. He puts his arm around the woman to guide her away from the window as she grabs her forehead and says, ‘My dog! What happened?”
“I don’t know if it was jet fuel or a gas tank on the side of the house or something,” Keeley said. “It was still booming. We got her across the street and I realized it still wasn’t far enough away.”
Soon they found a safer spot down the street where they were able to set up chairs and provide the woman some water. Keeley said the woman didn’t want to move her arms because they were burned but that she was walking on her own “which was a fantastic sight to see.”
Another neighbor named Allison told FOX 5 she saw the neighbors pull the woman from the window.
“She was OK,” Allison said. “She was burned, but we pulled her out of the window and tried to see if there was anyone else in the house. Her dog was inside and then apparently her husband. They found him.”
Realizing others were in the area helping, Keeley said he made the choice to stay with her.
“I didn’t want to leave her because she was in a frantic state,” he said. “She wanted her puppy and I was afraid if I went, she’d walk back and try to go get the puppy. By the time I got over here, the window was on fire. There was no way we’re going to go back. We got out at the right time.”
The witness video shows other neighbors remaining near the burning home to bust panels from a fence in a search for others in the home. Keeley can be seen bringing the woman back near the home to reunite with her husband as crews are behind them, pushing bystanders away from the fire and working to get a handle on the events of a tragic crash.
Although it likely leaves behind a mark of devastation — and plenty of questions to be answered in the days ahead — Keeley said the response of neighbors when it was needed most will remain with him.
“This is what I would expect our neighbors to do and that’s what they did and it makes me feel that much better,” he said. “I didn’t even think at the time. It was just like ‘Hey, I gotta get there.’ Hoped there were other people and there were. That’s why I love living here. This is where I want to be.”
FOX 5’s Domenick Candelieri contributed to this report.