Three People Killed After Firefighting Planes Collide
RAMONA, Calif. (AP) _ Two planes helping to fight a wildfire collided Wednesday and crashed into a house, killing three people and demolishing two homes.
A twin-engine plane owned by the U.S. Forest Service appeared to clip the tail of a four-engine air tanker the agency was using on contract, witnesses said.
``I said to my daughter, `Look at that little plane chasing the big plane,‴ Anna Allen said. ``Then they hit″ and the tanker went down.
The pilots from the two planes and a passenger from the air tanker were killed, said the Forest Service’s Judy Behrens. Investigators called off the search for additional victims late Wednesday, saying they believed everyone had been accounted for.
The crash about 35 miles northeast of San Diego occurred near the Ramona Airport, where the planes were approaching for landing.
The tanker demolished the home it crashed into and caught an adjacent, vacant house on fire.
Seventeen-year-old Roman Macias, whose family lived in the demolished home, said his sister was inside watching television when the planes collided, and the impact shattered the home’s front window.
He said his sister was able to get out of the house safely; another sister was in the front yard.
``God was looking over us,″ he said.
Scraps of the air tanker’s fuselage lay in the front yards of both homes. Other sections of both planes were scattered about the two properties.
The two planes were about a mile from the small landing strip when they collided, said Dave Bacon of the Forest Service. The pilots might have been planning to refuel, he said, or possibly they were on a shift change.
The tanker was a privately owned DC-4 under contract to the Forest Service. The two-person crew worked for a private contractor in Chico, said Rick Willis, a Forest Service spokesman at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.
The other plane, a Beach Barron, was owned by the Forest Service.
``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 former California Department of Forestry firefighter Dave Halverson, who happened to be in the area.
The planes were helping to douse a 6,750-acre brush fire near Julian in the Anza Borrego desert.
The medical examiner’s office identified the victims as Gary Cockrell of Paso Robles, Calif., the pilot of the air tanker; Lisa Netsch of Hemet, Calif., co-pilot of the air tanker; and Michael Smith of Hesperia, Calif., the pilot of the other plane;