Santee residents say plane crash was ‘inevitable’


(Courtesy of Roger Reyes)

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SANTEE, Calif. — Residents living near Gillespie Airport have feared a deadly crash like the one Thursday morning in Santee was inevitable.

“They fly all hours of the day and night. They even fly off their flight pattern and so close I can see their faces,” said Sylvia Benititez, who lives in Fletcher Hills, just west of the airport.

An instructor and a student were killed as a result of a light plane crashing into a driveway on Paseo de los Castillos in a residential neighborhood just west of Gillespie Field.

Gillespie Field now has seven flight schools with no enforceable restrictions, according to Debra Hurst, an attorney working with neighbors living near the airport. Homeowners are considering suing the county and flight schools for noise violations.

“I’ve always been concerned that if something goes wrong, if the engine stalls, where else are they going to go but right into our neighborhood?” said nearby resident Greg Thomas.

Since 1997, there have been 17 incidents at or around Gillespie field, ranging from hard landing with no injuries, deadly mid-air collisions and landings in neighborhoods.

The Piper Cherokee had just taken off from the El Cajon general-aviation airport when it went down for unknown reasons about 9:15 a.m. Thursday, authorities said.

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