Six people were killed early Saturday when their plane crashed near French Valley Airport in Riverside County, the second deadly crash in the area in the last four days.
The Cessna 550, a turbo fan jet, crashed in a field at 4:16 a.m. near Briggs and Auld roads in Murrieta and immediately burst into flames, according to a tweet posted by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the Riverside County Fire Department.
All of the people aboard were pronounced dead at the scene, authorities said. Coroner’s officials had not released the identities of the pilot or passengers as of Saturday afternoon. All were adults, and the plane appeared to be privately owned, Eliott Simpson of the National Transportation Safety Board said at a news conference.
The flight originated from Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas around 3:15 a.m. and was supposed to land at French Valley Airport, Simpson said.
The Federal Aviation Administration’s aircraft tracking database lists the plane as belonging to Prestige Worldwide Flights of Imperial, Calif. Agents for the company could not be reached for comment Saturday.
Investigators with the FAA and the NTSB responded to the scene.
The NTSB’s media office released a statement saying the plane crashed on its second approach to the airstrip.
Simpson said a marine layer began enveloping the area shortly before the plane was to land. The pilot told air traffic controllers at another airport that he would perform a “missed approach” procedure to abort the landing, which generally happens when a pilot can’t see the runway, Simpson said.
Air traffic control eventually cleared the airplane for landing. With a half-mile visibility, Simpson said, the flight appeared to have just met the minimum requirement to land at the airport.
The plane eventually crashed about 500 feet short of a runway. Most of the plane, except its tail, was consumed by fire. The debris field extended about 200 feet, Simpson said.
Simpson said it’s too soon to tell if weather was a factor in the crash.
On Saturday morning, a layer of fog hung over the field where the wreckage lay, a short distance north of the runway.
Max Trescott, a Palo Alto flight instructor who publishes the Aviation News Talk podcast, said data from an FAA weather website showed that visibility three minutes before the jet’s initial approach just before 4 a.m. was one-eighth of a mile less than required for instrument approach at that airport. That differs from Simpson’s assessment.
A minute after the crash, visibility was worse, at three-eighths of a mile below the minimum.
“It was changing for the worse for these folks,” Trescott said. “The weather did get worse during the time they were making their two approaches.”
The pilot would not necessarily have received the second report of deteriorating conditions, he said.
The county-owned airport has no tower — pilots rely on air traffic controllers at another airport. They can use instruments to get near French Valley but have to see the runway to land.
Trescott said an instrument landing would have guided the plane to about 250 feet above ground, at which point the pilot would have made the decision to land if he could see the runway.
Instead, he aborted and circled to make a second attempt. It wasn’t clear why the pilot made the second approach.
“If they had flown the approach the first time and didn’t see the runway, they could have chosen to divert to another airport with better weather,” Trescott said. “That would always be an option.”
A preliminary report is expected in 14 days, Simpson said.
Saturday’s crash came four days after one person was killed and three injured when a plane struck the side of a building near French Valley Airport, authorities said.
In that crash, a single-engine Cessna 172 went down shortly after taking off from the airport, according to the county Fire Department. No one was hurt on the ground.
Simpson said Saturday afternoon that it’s too soon to make any judgments about the safety of the airport. Officials will spend the next day or two investigating the scene before removing the plane to a secure facility.