SAN DIEGO (AP) — A small plane clipped the top of a store before it crashed in the parking lot of a San Diego shopping center, killing a 78-year-old passenger and seriously injuring the 52-year-old pilot, authorities said.
Several witnesses rushed to douse the plane's flames and pull out the two women, the only people aboard. A man who helped was treated for minor cuts and burns, but no one on the ground was hurt in the crash.
The single-engine 1988 Mooney M-20L went down Wednesday in a parking lot that serves a Costco and a Target store in the Kearny Mesa neighborhood.
The plane bounced while landing at nearby Montgomery Field, continued westbound and went down, said Ian Gregor, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration.
However, helicopter pilot Vince Carter said he had taken off from the field when he heard the pilot tell the control tower in a radio transmission that she had lost power on takeoff. "She said she lost power and she was going down and that was it," he told KFMB-TV.
It wasn't immediately clear which version of events was correct.
The plane clipped the top of the Target store and knocked down a light pole, police Lt. Steve Behrendt said.
It spun around and finally landed in the parking lot in a loading dock area away from the main entrances, and no cars were there, San Diego Fire Department spokesman Lee Swanson said.
The plane caught fire, but the flames were quickly doused. The passenger had serious burns, and she died at a hospital, according to the San Diego County Medical Examiner's office. The woman was initially described by a fire department spokesman as 80 years old, but the medical examiner's office later said she was 78.
The pilot also had major injuries, but she was expected to survive, Behrendt said.
Gregg Smith was working in a nearby office building and saw the plane in trouble. It nearly hit his building, he said.
"I knew they didn't have enough power to do the things they needed to do," he told KNSD-TV. "I knew it was going down."
Smith said the plane left his view, but he then heard a loud thud and then the crash. "The next thing I saw was a bunch of black smoke," he said.
He ran outside as he called 911, Smith said.
About 15 to 20 people were standing around the plane, some with fire extinguishers, he said. They put out the fire before it reached the plane's fuel tank, and they pulled the women out, Smith said.
The white plane appeared to be mostly intact, but its nose and one wing were torn up.
"The front of the passenger compartment, the engine is essentially broken off," Swanson said. "The landing gear is off; it's lying flat on its belly. There's some debris for several yards in each direction."
Carter, the helicopter pilot who was in the air and heard the pilot's last radio transmissions saying she was going down, said the plane's pilot may have helped save lives.
"This is a miracle and testament to her skill as a pilot," he told KNSD-TV. "This could have very easily killed a lot of people. You could imagine, just shopping at Target and a plane comes through the roof full of fuel.
"She stalled it out pretty much perfectly in the only spot she possibly could have."