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Three Die as Firefighting Planes Collide in the Skies

June 22, 1995

RAMONA, Calif. (AP) _ Diana Macias was blissfully watching television in her mother’s bedroom when a plane fell on her house.

``I didn’t hear anything except one big boom,″ the 15-year-old told The San Diego Union-Tribune. ``I ran out of the room and tried to get out the front door, but there was too much smoke. I could see parts of the plane in the house.″

What she saw were shards of two Forest Service firefighting planes that crashed in the air Wednesday, killing all three people aboard and dropping burning metal onto two homes. Both houses were destroyed, but Diana and her sister, the only ones home at the time, escaped unharmed.

``I saw the lead plane coming close to the tanker on approach and the DC-4 was already on approach. Then the little plane clipped the big one and they crashed,″ said witness Dave Halverson.

The four-engine DC-4 air tanker and the smaller twin-engine Beechcraft Baron were working to douse a stubborn 6,750-acre brush fire in the Anza-Borrego desert. They were about a mile from a small landing strip in Ramona, about 35 miles northeast of San Diego, when they collided.

The pilots might have been planning to refuel or changing shifts, said Dave Bacon of the Forest Service.

Kay Hasty, who lives on a hill overlooking the destroyed homes, was clearing brush in her yard when she heard a loud popping sound.

``I saw the front of the plane going into the home and sections from the tanker flying off,″ Hasty said. ``The house was engulfed in flames.″

Diana jumped out a window into the front yard, where her sister was filling a bucket of water. ``I grabbed my sister and we ran and ran,″ Diana said. ``I didn’t have time to get anything. I just wanted to run away.″

The other members of the Macias family were out of the house. ``God was looking over us,″ said Diana’s brother, Roman.

The house next door was vacant.

The victims were identified as Gary Cockrell of Paso Robles, the pilot of the air tanker; co-pilot Lisa Netsch of Hemet; and Michael Smith of Hesperia, the pilot of the other plane.

The air tanker was on contract to the Forest Service. The Beechcraft was owned by the agency.

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