Mountain View Voice

News - February 19, 2010

Plane crash kills three, knocks out power to region

by Kelsey Mesher

Mountain View's neighboring city to the north was all but shut down Wednesday after a small passenger plane crashed in East Palo Alto, killing all three people aboard the plane and causing a large-scale power outage throughout the city of Palo Alto.

The plane, a twin-engine Cessna 310R, came down at 7:55 a.m. Wednesday morning at Beech and Pulgas streets. FAA officials said it had just taken off at Palo Alto Airport and was headed to Southern California.

The plane's pilot and two passengers, all employees of the Tesla electric car company, were confirmed dead. There were no injuries or fatalities on the ground.

Emergency officials said the outage had little direct impact on Mountain View, although "If they need help we're standing by," said Lynn Brown, Fire Department spokesman and emergency specialist. "We're going to send as much as they need."

The plane was under a dense fog advisory with zero to one-quarter-mile visibility when it took off. One witness told KTVU that the plane clipped a transmission tower before crashing into the ground.

Authorities said the plane knocked out a transmission tower as well as a utility tower and power lines. Non-localized transmission lines were cut off, knocking out power to the region, including to homes and businesses and to traffic lights at intersections. Power flickered as far north as Belmont and as far south as San Antonio Road.

"It looks like the main transmission line that runs along 101" was knocked out, Brown said. "It's the major inlet for (power), so that's why it's such a large area."

In Palo Alto, all major retail and businesses were shut down for the day, and traffic lights caused some delays along major roads. The underpass at Embarcadero Road beneath Alma was flooded, reportedly because a pump that keeps the road clear was not running.

Stanford Hospital was running on generators, and some patients were sent elsewhere. Only major surgeries and procedures were being performed.

In East Palo Alto, parts of the plane including a wing came off and landed on homes, according to Menlo Park Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman, but that the body of the plane landed in the street and skidded a distance. The pieces that fell caused at least two homes to catch fire, he said.

Among the buildings hit was that of Lisa Jones, who operates a day care center out of her home.

"Everybody got out safely," said Pamela Houston, who works there and was feeding an 11-month-old when a piece of the plane hit the house.

"We initially heard the boom part of the explosion," she said. "As we were running out of the house we saw the debris falling and hitting other houses."

Luckily, she said, only one child had been dropped off so far that morning.

"Normally it's more," she said. "We're just counting it to the glory and honor of God."

Lois Ingram was waiting for her mother, Sandra Watts, who also works at the day care center, to appear from down the roped-off block. She said she had spoken to her mother over the phone, but that she's "too shaken up to say anything right now."

Despite serious impact in neighboring cities, Mountain View officials said Wednesday afternoon they had heard no related reports.

Brown said the city of Palo Alto is working with the county to determine need for support.

"I talked to them about half an hour ago and they ... did not have a formal request yet" for help, he said Wednesday.

E-mail Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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