Federal investigators sifted Monday through the wreckage of a twin-engine airplane that crashed in a Santa Ana parking lot, killing the five people aboard.
“With the pilot, we’re going to look at his currency with the airplane, we’re going to be looking at all the records that are associated (with him),” National Transportation Safety Board investigator Jack Vanover told reporters at the scene.
The victims were identified Monday as 29-year-old Nasim Ghanadan, a Bay Area Realtor; fellow Bay Area real estate agents Floria Hakami, 62, and Lara Shepherd, 42; Hakami’s 32-year-old son, Navid Hakami, of Los Angeles; and the pilot, Scott Shepherd, 53, also of the Bay Area.
The group was traveling Sunday aboard the Cessna 414 aircraft from Concord, California, to Orange County for a real estate conference and were heading to John Wayne Airport when the crash occurred at 12:30 p.m. Sunday. Witness video showed the plane nose-diving straight into the parking lot. No one on the ground was injured, although NTSB investigator Albert Nixon said the plane struck four vehicles.
Witnesses at the scene said they didn’t hear any sputtering from the engine, with some guessing that the plane had run out of fuel.
“The pilot declared an emergency, however, he did not state the nature of his problem,” Nixon said.
The plane crashed into the parking lot of a shopping area in the 3800 block of South Bristol Street, about a mile northwest from John Wayne Orange County Airport, where the aircraft was headed.
“It looked like it came down abruptly,” Bommarito said. “There is a small debris field.”
The nearby intersection of Sunflower Avenue at Bristol Street was closed in all four directions as National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration investigators combed the crash site.
NTSB investigators arrived at the crash scene about 11 p.m. Sunday and left about two hours later to await daylight, a videographer reported from the scene. Santa Ana police officers guarded the cordoned-off crash scene.
The 1973 Cessna was registered to San Francisco-based Category III Aviation Corp., apparently owned by the pilot, Scott Shepherd.
Cessna 414 planes began operations in 1968. They have a range of 1,528 miles and a top speed of 270 miles per hour.
The death toll originally was believed to be three, but was upped to five as firefighters examined the crash.
The plane was running on 100 octane gas, which spilled during the crash, Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Steve Concialdi said. Fire crews remained on the scene to clean up the spilled fuel.
“I don’t know anything about what this pilot did, or what he was thinking, but it could have been much more tragic,” Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Tony Bommarito said. “This was a Sunday afternoon and we have people shopping, so the fact that we have no injuries on the ground is a miracle in itself.”
OCFA firefighters and coroner’s personnel removed all the bodies from the wreckage by about 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Concialdi said.