Coroner: Three on doomed plane drowned

The three victims of a single-engine plane crash in Newport Beach's Back Bay drowned, coroner officials said Tuesday.

Charles Chambers, 58, of Redondo Beach, Sean Kelly, 44, of Hermosa Beach, and Russell Urban, 63, of Rancho Palos Verdes, were killed Sunday evening when their four-seat, 1968 Beechcraft Muskateer landed upside down in some of the nature preserve's mudflats north of San Joaquin Hills Road.

The three men were already dead when their bodies were pulled from the downed plane, said Newport Beach Police Sgt. Steve Burdette. The Orange County Sheriff's Department Coroner's office listed 5:46 p.m. as the victims' time of death.

The plane was registered to Chambers, who had a private pilot's certificate. The men were flying to a small airport in Torrance from the Baja Peninsula, where they had been surfing and enjoying the Baja 1000 off-road race. The men stopped in the California border town of Calexico before flying farther north.

At about 5:45 p.m., Chambers, a 30-year veteran pilot, called John Wayne Airport's control tower asking to land, saying that his plane was low on fuel.

Police began blocking streets when they learned that the pilot wanted to land on Newport Center Drive, authorities said.

Firefighters reported seeing the plane fly low and slow over a nearby fire station before crashing into the bay. Firefighters and police on scene rushed into the water to rescue the three, but it was too late. On Monday, the plane was hoisted intact out of the water.

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the cause of the crash. An NTSB investigator said Monday that "minimal fuel" was found in the engine compartment, but he could not say then whether the crash resulted from the plane running out of fuel.

For the last four years, Chambers had flown Urban with him to Mexico's Scorpion Bay, a famous surf break less than 800 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border. Kelly decided to join them this time.

Relatives said the men departed Scorpion Bay on Saturday for their homeward trip to the United States and refueled in San Felipe, Mexico, before traveling on to Calexico. The plane has about a 1,000-nautical mile range.

Staff Writer Mike Reicher contributed to this report.

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