Santee neighbors describe rescue scene immediately after Cessna crashed into UPS truck and then struck two homes
There was no black box in the six-seat Cessna. Audio from the tower indicates warnings that the plane was losing altitude
SANTEE—A federal investigation into what caused a small plane to crash into a Santee neighborhood got underway Tuesday, a day after two people were killed, and two homes and a UPS delivery truck were destroyed.
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Three investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board arrived at the crash site to scour for clues as to why the Cessna C340 went down shortly before it was to reach its intended destination.
Radio communications indicate the pilot was flying too low, triggering warnings from an air traffic controller to fly higher: “Climb immediately. Climb the airplane.”
Seconds later, around 12:15 p.m., the plane crashed into the truck and homes near Greencastle and Jeremy streets, east of Santana High School. Several bystanders raced to rescue a couple in their 70s from their burning home. One neighbor called the scene “chaos.”
The smell of smoke lingered Tuesday afternoon as an NTSB investigator walked around the scene, past a burned-out boat, car and pickup, sifting through evidence. A tow truck driver worked to haul off the gnarled UPS truck, and large scraps of metal, rubber and other debris littered the roadway, sidewalks and front yards of the gutted homes.
Shortly after the UPS truck was gone, a salvage crew hoisted from the homes chunks of the plane, including its mangled wings and what appeared to be engine parts.
Authorities removed a body Tuesday from the scene of a plane crash a day earlier in a residential Santee neighborhood. A Cessna C340 crashed near Greencastle and Jeremy streets, east of Santana High School, around 12:15 p.m. Monday. The pilot died, as did a UPS driver on the ground.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)
The San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office was at the crash scene recovering the bodies of two victims — the UPS driver and the pilot of the plane. A county spokesman said it could take several weeks to officially confirm the identities because of the condition of the bodies.
However, the victims’ employers confirmed their names. The UPS delivery driver has been identified as Steve Krueger, who worked at the company for nearly 30 years. The pilot who died was Dr. Sugata Das, a cardiologist who had worked at Yuma Regional Medical Center since 2005, Yuma hospital officials said.
Krueger’s UPS colleagues held a moment of silence for him exactly 24 hours after the crash.
UPS driver killed in Santee plane crash honored with moment of silence
Investigation continues into crash that killed 2, injured 2 when plane crashed into Santee neighborhood
The 61-year-old lived in Ocean Beach, where his brother said he had purchased a property in the late 1990s, tore down the existing duplexes and then built a four-story dwelling with two detached units. He rented out some of the space, but lived in the top three floors of the home.
Steve Krueger, seen here barefoot waterskiing, died Monday when a plane crashed into the UPS truck he was driving in a residential Santee neighborhood.
“He had that project that he set his sights on and enjoyed working hard to make it happen … it was quite the place,” Jeffrey Krueger said Tuesday night.
Steve Krueger, a graduate of Bonita Vista High School, began working at UPS while studying for his business degree at San Diego State University. After earning his degree, he stayed on at the company.
“He never had any kids, but he was a great uncle to my kids,” Jeffrey Krueger said. “He really enjoyed his life immensely.”
Notes and flowers covered the car of nearly 30-year UPS veteran, Steve Krueger, at the UPS facility in Kearney Mesa, a day after he was killed on the job when a plane crashed into his truck.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)
Colleagues left notes, flowers and a photo collage on and around Krueger’s car, which sat parked where he left it outside the UPS facility in Kearny Mesa. A flag was flying half-staff outside the building.
“Those who knew Steve said he took pride in his work, and his positive attitude and joyful laugh made the hardest days a little lighter. Steve was held in high regard and will be greatly missed,” a UPS spokesman said in a statement.
Longtime friend Todd Bohlman said he’d met Krueger 25 years ago on a Lake Powell houseboat trip. Krueger saw Bohlman and friends barefoot waterskiing and wanted to learn.
“By the end of the week he was up on his feet, a little black and blue, but having a blast,” Bohlman said. “I will miss that smile of his.”
Dr. Sugata Das, a cardiologist working in Yuma, AZ, died in a plane crash in Santee on Monday.
(Courtesy of the Yuma Regional Medical Center/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)
Colleagues mourned the loss of Das, whom they described as an exceptional physician who “dedicated his life and career to caring for patients.”
“Dr. Das was an outstanding cardiologist and dedicated family man,” Dr. Bharat Magu, Chief Medical Officer at the hospital, said in a statement. “He was a highly disciplined physician who thrived on each opportunity to improve care for heart patients.”
According to a website for Power of Love, a non-profit organization that focuses on HIV care and prevention in children in Zambia and India, Das was a board director. A profile of Das on the website said that, in 2010, “a fortuitous incident sparked an interest in general aviation.”
The profile also noted that he flew his Cessna between Yuma and San Diego, where he lived with his family.
The six-seat aircraft was headed from Yuma, Ariz., to Montgomery-Gibbs Executive Field in Kearny Mesa. The crash site is about 11 miles east of the airport, commonly referred to Montgomery Field.
Das is the second doctor from the Yuma hospital to die in a crash while piloting a plane in San Diego in recent years. In February 2018, Dr. John Serocki’s single engine plane went down in a Kearny Mesa parking lot shortly after takeoff from Montgomery Field.
The orthopedic surgeon, who also practiced at Scripps Memorial Hospital in San Diego, was commuting to Yuma.
In Monday’s crash, there was no black box on board, according to the NTSB.
The plane was flying under instrument flight rules — as opposed to visual flight rules — because of meteorological conditions.
A preliminary report on the crash is expected to be released 15 business days from the day of the crash. Full investigations into fatal crashes typically take a year or two to complete.
The flight path, according to the FlightAware website, showed the plane making the straight shot west from Arizona. But as it approaches San Diego, the plane veers a bit to the south, then gets back on course.
Then it happens again, this time veering farther south and looping back north then east in a half-circle before crashing.
Radio communications between the pilot and an air traffic controller offer a sense of the plane’s final moments.
At one point the tower tells the pilot it appeared that the plane was descending. “I need to make sure you are climbing, not descending.”
The pilot responds that the plane was climbing.
Soon the controller issues a terse warning: “Low altitude alert. Climb immediately. Climb the airplane. Maintain 5,000. Expedite climb. Climb the airplane please,” according to audio of the communication posted by 10News and CBS 8.
The controller continues to tell the pilot to fly higher. “You appear to be descending again sir,” he says.
Footage posted by 10News shows the plane nose diving into the neighborhood, followed by an explosion.
Two homes caught fire, including that of the couple in their 70s who were rescued by neighbors. A GoFundMe page created by the couple’s family said they were recovering at a hospital from second- and third-degree burns to their heads, faces, arms, hands, and in the man’s case, his legs.
Medical staff planned to intubate the woman because “the swelling is getting worse,” her son, Jim Slaff, wrote on the page Tuesday. “We expect that her eyes will be swollen shut either later today or tomorrow and will remain shut for around 3 or 4 days.”
Slaff wrote that their dog, Roxie, hadn’t turned up as of Tuesday afternoon, leading them to believe she died. “I know chances are slim she made it out but we are praying for a miracle for our grandma’s little fur baby,” a granddaughter wrote on the page.
Officials on Tuesday walked the site of a plane crash that occurred about 12:15 p.m. on Monday near Greencastle and Jeremy streets in Santee. Two people were killed.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)
The plane struck a second house, which a newlywed couple bought in June. It was their first home. They had just finished remodeling the home over the weekend, a family member told 10News.
They were not home at the time of the crash. But a GoFundMe page for the couple says they lost all of their belongings.
Eric Fort, who lives three doors down from the destroyed homes, said he had trouble sleeping Monday night after what he witnessed that day. He was working in his open garage when the plane crashed.
Fort heard the plane getting closer, but didn’t think much of it at first, because aircraft often fly near the neighborhood. Then it got progressively louder.
“And after a while, you’re like, ‘What is that?’” Fort said. “And as soon as I said, ‘Something is wrong,’ that’s when the explosion happened.”
He said the plane made a whistling sound just before it crashed, and compared the sound of the impact to a bomb in a movie.
“When it hit,” Fort said, “that was just chaos.”
Staff photographers K.C. Alfred and Nelvin Cepeda and staff writers David Hernandez and Karen Pearlman contributed to this report.