Close friends die when plane crashes into Monterey home

A house smolders amid smoke on a hillside.
A plane crashed into a house fire in Monterra Ranch on Tuesday, setting the home and hillside on fire.
(Monterey County Regional Fire District)

A plane that crashed into a Monterey home earlier this week, killing the 74-year-old pilot and her 61-year-old passenger, began having trouble shortly after takeoff, air traffic control audio records indicate.

The twin-engine Cessna 421 left Monterey Regional Airport around 10:40 a.m. Tuesday, the Federal Aviation Administration reported.

Three minutes later, the plane slammed into a luxury home in the Monterra Ranch neighborhood, setting the house and the surrounding hillside on fire.

In audio released Wednesday by air traffic control, officials can be heard alerting the pilot that the plane was flying too low and to “climb immediately” to 5,000 feet. The pilot never responded, and moments later, air traffic controllers called for help for a potential crash.


FAA officials initially indicated the pilot was the only person aboard the plane, but family members have since identified both the pilot and her passenger. No one was inside the house at the time of the crash.

Mary Ellen Carlin, a flight instructor from Pacific Grove, was flying Alice Diane Emig to Rancho Cordova in Sacramento County for her son’s doctor’s appointment, according to Sara Meyers, Emig’s mother.

Meyers told KSBW-TV that Carlin was flying her daughter — and her dog, Toby — because Emig didn’t drive.

The Monterey County Sheriff’s Office said that no bodies have been recovered from the wreckage, but Carlin’s son, David Carlin, told the Monterey Herald that the pilot flying the plane was his mother.

“My mom flew that plane for well over a decade,” he told the newspaper. “I want to make sure everyone knows that my mom was a great pilot. She spent tens of thousands of hours flying. She taught dozens of students over the years. She’s kind of a legend.”

According to FAA records, the twin-engine Golden Eagle Cessna is registered to M.E. Mullaly Inc. of Pacific Grove. On Mary Ellen Carlin’s LinkedIn page, she is listed as the company’s president for the last 30 years.

In a news conference Wednesday at the Monterey Regional Airport, Eric Gutierrez, an investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, said it’s too soon to determine the cause of the crash, as evidence — including the plane’s maintenance history — is still being gathered.

Toby did not survive.

Emig and Carlin were close friends and played bridge together, Meyers said. She said the crash doesn’t seem real and she can’t imagine what went wrong.

“It’s something I’ll always regret — losing my daughter and a good friend,” she said. “It’s difficult to grasp when a person is here one day, and crashes the next, and they’re out of your life.”