3 believed killed as 2 planes collide in midair close to Watsonville airport

Three persons are believed to have been killed after two planes approaching the runway on the Watsonville Municipal Airport collided in midair on Thursday afternoon, officers mentioned.

A single-engine Cessna 152 and twin-engine Cessna 340 collided at 2:56 p.m. as they had been making their closing approaches into the airport, a spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Administration mentioned. One individual was on board the Cessna 152 whereas two folks had been on board the Cessna 340 however their situations had been unknown, the spokesperson mentioned. No accidents had been reported to anybody on the bottom.

A number of companies responded to the scene, in line with the town’s Twitter account.

“We’re grieving tonight from this sudden and sudden loss,” mentioned Watsonville Mayor Ari Parker. “I need to specific my deepest and most heartfelt condolences.”

The Chronicle reviewed audio of the ultimate moments earlier than the crash on LiveATC.web and spoke to a basic aviation supply who reviewed the audio and flight knowledge.

At about 2:54 p.m., the pilot of the dual engine aircraft, touring near 200 mph, introduced over the radio he was a mile out. Instantly, the pilot of a second single engine Cessna — a smaller and slower aircraft that had been circling the airport and hanging left to additionally line up with the runway — introduced “Yeah, I see you’re behind me.”

Seconds later, at 2:55 p.m., the pilot of the smaller aircraft introduced he was going to abort his touchdown: “I’m gonna go-around then since you’re coming at me fairly fast man.”

Radio site visitors stopped for 30 seconds earlier than a 3rd pilot warned different pilots of the crash.

As rescuers raced to the scene, two different pilots mentioned what occurred.

“The dual-engine Cessna was on an extended closing method and someone else was on base turning on closing … method,” a pilot defined. “The dual-engine Cessna didn’t see him and he crashed into him. The only engine went down and the dual engine rolled into the bottom.”

A mid-air collision is exceedingly uncommon, mentioned Max Trescott, a basic aviation pilot of fifty years and 22-year teacher who usually flies out and in of the Watsonville airport. Perhaps a dozen a yr, he mentioned.

Flight knowledge indicated the bigger aircraft was going about 178 knots within the closing moments earlier than the crash, an “terribly quick” method, Trescott mentioned, and certain twice as quick because the smaller aircraft.

“An extended straight-in closing is permitted, however you’re imagined to defer to folks within the site visitors sample,” mentioned Trescott, who hosts Aviation Information Discuss, an aviation security podcast. “Recognizing one other airplane will be troublesome even below the perfect situations.”

Watsonville airport, Trescott mentioned, has no management tower, so pilots should talk amongst themselves to determine their positions. Whereas not uncommon — about 90% of airports within the nation don’t have any tower — Trescott mentioned Watsonville is a fairly busy facility to not have one.

“If it had a tower this collision would have been far much less seemingly,” he mentioned.

The crash is considered one of many within the aiport’s historical past. A aircraft piloted by one individual crashed on runway 20 on the airport in November 2012, in line with an article printed by Patch. The pilot suffered minor accidents within the incident. An article printed by the Santa Cruz Sentinel in March 2021 acknowledged that the airport had 19 accidents within the final three many years.

Lowell Hurst, a Watsonville councilmember mentioned one aircraft went down in a subject and the opposite crashed right into a hangar on the airport. “From what we’ve heard to this point, there was a mid-air crash,” he mentioned.

It was not instantly clear whether or not the planes concerned had been working for enterprise or leisure functions. However Hurst, a Watsonville resident of over 4 many years, mentioned the collision recalled others in years previous, like a 2011 incident when a small aircraft crashed into a close-by hospital, killing 4 folks.

“It’s all the time security first however you simply by no means know what’s going to occur,” Hurst mentioned. “Gravity’s a really highly effective pressure.”

At Beer Mule Bottle Store and Pour Home, residence to a preferred out of doors beer backyard with views of the runway, an worker mentioned the enterprise was open and working usually by late Thursday afternoon after a flurry of sirens just a few hours earlier.

“There have been only a entire bunch of emergency autos passing by,” the worker mentioned. “It was on the other facet of the airport.”

An investigation into the incident is underway by the FAA and the Nationwide Transportation Security Board.

The airport, situated in a quiet nook of Watsonville, a Santa Cruz group of simply over 52,000 folks, is thought for agricultural exports like strawberries.

The town has boomed with Bay Space and Central Coast transplants searching for extra reasonably priced housing in recent times, fueling new enterprise together with the airport-adjacent Watsonville Hangar complicated.

Jordan Parker (he/him) is a San Francisco Chronicle workers author. E mail: jordan.parker@sfchronicle.com. Twitter: @jparkerwrites.


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