The pilot of a twin-engine plane that crashed in a Santa Ana shopping center earlier this month made contact with air traffic controllers at John Wayne Airport several times before apparently losing control of the aircraft, according to a preliminary accident report by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The Cessna 414, piloted by 53-year-old Scott Shepherd, crashed outside a Staples office supply store in the 3800 block of Bristol Street, killing all five people aboard. The four other victims were identified as: Lara Shepherd, 42, of Diablo; Nasim Ghanadan, 29, of Alamo; Floria Hakimi, 62, of Danville; and Navid Hakimi, 32, of Los Angeles.
An audiotape reviewed by the NTSB showed that Shepard made contact with the air tower on Aug. 5 shortly before 12:30 p.m., when he was preparing to land.
Because of air traffic, the controller directed Shepherd to a different runway, but he said he was unable to land there, records show. Shepherd then was instructed to circle over South Coast Plaza.
During that time, Shepherd indicated he could land on the second runway and began his descent, the NTSB reported. At one point, the controller told Shepherd to ascend because “he was below the altitude he should have been at,” according to Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the NTSB. At 12:28 p.m., the plane was about 1,000 feet up and a mile from the airport.
The last time the airport’s radar captured the plane was one minute later when the aircraft had descended to 494 feet. During his steep decline, Shepherd transmitted an emergency signal three times, although he did not specify what the emergency was, the NTSB report showed.
“The airplane did not recover from the descent and collided with several vehicles in a shopping mall parking lot before coming to rest upright about 35 [feet] from the entrance of a major store,” the report said.
NTSB investigator Albert Nixon said it’s unclear why Shepherd initially declined to land on the second runway, as he had been instructed.
“I'm not going to say that’s unusual,” he said. “That sort of thing does happen, but exactly why, that’s something that we don’t know at this point.”
Witnesses said they saw the plane turn before it began to dive toward the shopping center. Video taken by people on the ground and posted on social media showed a crumpled airplane, with two broken sections, and at least one body outside the aircraft.
The plane struck a red Chevrolet sedan that was parked in the shopping center and damaged three other vehicles, according to the NTSB. No one on the ground was injured.