Five people were killed when their twin-engine Cessna airplane crashed near South Coast Plaza in Santa Ana on Sunday afternoon, according to the Orange County Fire Authority.
The plane crashed in the parking lot of a Staples office supply store in the 3800 block of Bristol Street, fire authority spokesman Stephen Concialdi said.
OCFA Capt. Tony Bommarito said the plane struck an unoccupied parked vehicle.
“Fortunately, that person was inside the store shopping at the time of the impact,” Bommarito told reporters during a news conference. “I don’t know anything about what this pilot did or what he was thinking, but it could have been much more tragic.
“This is a Sunday afternoon and we had people shopping so the fact that there were no injuries on the ground is a miracle in itself,” he added.
The pilot of the Cessna 414 declared an emergency before the plane crashed into the parking lot of a shopping center, about a mile from John Wayne Airport, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Officials have not released the identities of the five who were killed.
Witnesses said they saw the plane turn before it suddenly began to dive into the shopping center. Video footage taken by those on the ground and posted on social media shows a crumbled airplane with two broken sections and at least one body outside the aircraft.
A dashcam on a vehicle captured the moment before the plane dove near Sunflower Avenue and Bristol Street.
Ella Pham, 20, of Santa Ana, said she and her boyfriend were leaving the parking lot to go to South Coast Plaza when they noticed the aircraft.
“We looked up to see the plane falling nose first,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “We really didn’t think it was a plane at first due to no crashing noise, but as soon as we saw people running from across the street we went to go check it out.
“It was so heartbreaking just seeing the plane crumbled into pieces.”
Pham said there was no explosion, a detail that fire officials also noted during the news conference.
“A lot of people tried to help until they saw that it was hard to get inside the aircraft but by the time people stepped away, firefighters and police were there,” she said.
FAA records show the fixed-wing airplane was owned by Category III Aviation Corp., a real estate consulting firm in San Francisco, and was bound for John Wayne Airport.
“We do not have confirmation on a departure airport at this time,” said Arlene Salac, an FAA spokeswoman.
The company did not respond to a request for comment.
The FAA will investigate and the National Transportation Safety Board will determine the cause of the accident.
The crash came about a year after a twin-engine airplane burst into flames as it crash-landed on the 405 Freeway just a few miles away after taking off from John Wayne Airport. Video showed the aircraft bursting into flames and a tall plume of black smoke rising into the air. A husband and wife, who survived, were pulled from the aircraft by an off-duty firefighter from Avalon.
For more Southern California news, follow @latvives on Twitter.
8 p.m.: This article was updated with information from witnesses and additional comments from the OCFA.
3:20 p.m.: This article was updated with information about the airplane and additional comments from OCFA.
2:07 p.m.: This article was updated with the FAA saying the pilot declared an emergency before the crash.
This article was originally published at 1:10 p.m.