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Plane fell apart in air before deadly crash into Yorba Linda home

The Cessna plane had flown about 10 miles, reaching an altitude as high as 7,800 feet, when witnesses saw it coming through the clouds in one piece, authorities said. Moments later, its tail came off. Then its wings.

The plane plummeted rapidly into a Yorba Linda home Sunday afternoon, setting it on fire and killing four people inside along with the pilot. Debris was strewn across four blocks of the residential neighborhood, among as many as 16 homes.

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On Monday, investigators with the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board combed through the wreckage and collected pieces of aircraft to transport to a Phoenix storage facility, where they will be examined.

So far, they know the 1981 twin-engine plane took off from Fullerton Municipal Airport about 1:35 p.m., made a left turn and flew for about 10 minutes. By 1:45 p.m., it had crashed into the house in 19000 block of Crestknoll Drive.

Officials have asked witnesses to come forward and provide any video footage of the scene, and to report any pieces of wreckage they may find.

“The challenge will be collecting all the pieces,” NTSB investigator Maja Smith said.

At one residence, a piece of the plane’s engine knocked down a pillar on the front porch and torpedoed through a first-floor window, flying through two rooms before landing in a bathroom. Fragments of exhaust pipe crashed through a second-floor window of the home and melted into the carpet. A propeller thumped onto the driveway.

Investigators identified the pilot as 75-year-old Antonio Pastini, a retired Chicago police officer.

According to records, Pastini previously owned a restaurant, Kim Lee’s Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar, in Gardnerville, Nev., south of Carson City. Officials are gathering information about Pastini’s flight experience, medical records and the plane’s maintenance schedules.

FAA records show Pastini has carried a commercial pilot’s license and been a ground instructor since at least June 2008. He took his last medical exam for flying in 2017, according to records.

Records do not identify the owner of the aircraft and note that its registration with the FAA was pending. A spokesman said that’s because the agency was waiting for additional documentation related to the aircraft’s sale.

Julia Ackley, a Torrance resident and one of Pastini's daughters, told The Times that her father was a veteran pilot who regularly flew to Southern California to visit her family from Oregon or Nevada, where he was a restaurant and business owner. Battling back tears as she comforted her child, she said the family is overcome with grief.

The two women and two men killed on the ground have not been identified. Authorities said the bodies are badly burned, so DNA testing and dental records will be requested to identify them. Two other people suffered moderate burns, and a firefighter suffered a minor ankle injury in the aftermath.

On Monday afternoon, the neighborhood was still reeling from the disaster.

Lisa Dang strolled past police tape to return to the charred scene. She surveyed the damage, comparing it to “a scene in the movies,” and cupped her face in her hands.

“Wow, we [are] so lucky,” she said.

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Dang was visiting her older sister for Lunar New Year on Sunday when the plane crashed into her sister’s neighbor’s home. Dang and her family had just eaten a meal of sticky rice cake and duck when they heard a horrific boom.

“We ran out of the house, yelling, not having time to grab anything except the baby, not knowing what was going on,” Dang said.

Firefighters, she said, saved her sister’s home.

“In minutes, the other house was gone but we are grateful ours is still here,” Dang said.

Times staff writer Alejandra Reyes-Velarde contributed to this report.

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