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Light Plane Hits Apartments, Killing Three

November 21, 1995

FULLERTON, Calif. (AP) _ A light plane trying to land in fog slammed into an apartment building as people were waking for work Monday, killing the two people in the aircraft and a woman in her bed.

Fire swept through the four-unit building, forcing eight to 10 people into the streets, some in towels and blankets. One firefighter was injured.

``My mom didn’t make it,″ said Jeremy Ernst, 20, standing on the sidewalk with his father, Ron, as emergency crews worked inside. Sharon Ernst was still asleep when the plane hit about 6:35 a.m., they said.

Ed Borgelt, whose apartment is next to the Ernsts, was getting out of the shower when he felt the building shake.

``We used to just sit there and watch the planes go by,″ he said. Residents said the planes flew so low you could read their tail numbers.

``We figured it could happen ... but we never really thought it would happen to us,″ Borgelt said.

Flames gutted the upper floor of the building, which had two living floors above garage spaces.

The airport tower is closed from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m., but after-hours landings are legal and there are usually about a half-dozen every night, airport director Roland Elder said.

Patchy fog Monday cut visibility to less than 100 yards in places.

Elder said the pilot may have been trying to land using instruments. Pilots making instrument landings at Fullerton are supposed to have the runway in sight from an altitude of 500 feet or higher, he said.

Some people on the ground heard a ``pop″ and the sound of a motor revving before they felt a jarring motion like an earthquake and ran outside.

``I thought it was somebody mowing a lawn,″ said Cindy Stuart, a neighbor.

The Piper Cherokee left Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains about 6 a.m., said Mitch Barker of the Federal Aviation Administration. Fullerton is 35 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

Authorities identified the passenger in the plane as Les Arehart, 46, of Big Bear Lake, who worked as an analyst for Anaheim’s Finance Department. He commuted daily to his job, but not always by plane. The pilot was also a commuter who worked in Orange County, said Lois Vandewarker, executive assistant to Anaheim’s city manager. The identity of the pilot was not immediately disclosed.

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