Four people were killed Sunday morning when their small plane crashed into a nearby medical office building as the aircraft was taking off from Torrance Municipal Airport.
Authorities did not know the cause of the accident. But they said a witness reported that the Beechcraft Sundowner stalled as it took off, rapidly falling into the Torrance office park near the intersection of Hawthorne Boulevard and Skypark Drive about 10:30 a.m.
The four-seater hit the corner of one of eight buildings in the Skypark complex. The medical offices were closed for the day.
"We don't believe anybody was in the building at the time," said Thomas H. Wilcox, an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board. There were no reported injuries on the ground.
The plane rammed through the top two floors of the three-story building, breaking into pieces and erupting into flames. Parts of the aircraft dangled on the blackened exterior of the building a few dozen yards from a serenely landscaped courtyard of trees and a waterfall.
"The wreckage is embedded in the ceiling of the first floor," said Wilcox, who was waiting for Los Angeles County coroner's officials to arrive before he could examine the crash site in any detail.
The identities of the victims were not released Sunday, pending notification of relatives. Wilcox said there was no record of a flight plan and that he was unsure of the plane's destination. A Fire Department spokesman said the plane was leased or rented.
Firefighters kept the flames from spreading beyond one portion of the building, and by Sunday afternoon restaurants on the edge of the complex were busy with patrons. "Yes, we are open," announced a sign propped on a bench in front of the Olive Garden.
Commercial and office development borders the small, World War II-era airport on its west side, where the accident occurred.
Over the years, several planes have lost power on takeoff, crashing at the airport or in adjacent areas. In the late 1970s and 1980s there were two fatal accidents that killed a total of seven people.
Torrance City Manager LeRoy Jackson said there have been some complaints about noise at the airport but that the city has "a very aggressive" noise abatement program. He added that runway problems with small planes are "part of the nature of anyplace in Southern California where you have light aircraft."
Times staff writer Nicholas Riccardi contributed to this story.