EL CAJON, Calif. — A Learjet 35 that crashed Monday night in unincorporated El Cajon was being used by a company called Aeromedevac Air Ambulance. It flew a patient from Arizona to Orange County and was returning to its home base at Gillespie Field when it went down on Pepper Drive, killing all four people on board. Sources told News 8 the victims are two pilots and two nurses, including one who is a mother of three.
One of the four was identified as a nurse and the wife of a recently retired local fire chief in an Instagram post Tuesday by The Oceanside Firefighters Association. The post identified Tina Ward as one of the people on board when the aircraft went down. The post offered condolences to Tina's husband - recently retired Oceanside Fire Chief Joe Ward - and featured a photo of the couple.
The other three victims’ names had not yet been officially released as of Tuesday night.
Neighbors said they're used to hearing car crashes, but the sound of the plane crash was very different. And when they ran outside and saw the fireball, they knew there was nothing they could do to help those in the plane.
“I opened the door - a big ball of fire rumbled and it knocked me back,” said Bridget Spain who lives next to the crash site. “I was really scared and trying to get out - thinking the fire was right here.”
Neighbors said they could hear the plane in trouble just seconds before the crash, which happened around 7:15 p.m. on Monday. Witnesses raced to the scene, but quickly realized the heat was too intense. There was nothing they could do to have those onboard.
“It was just a ball of fire,” Justin Dow said. “It's sad.”
Dow said the weather at the time of the crash was terrible.
“It was super foggy. It was raining. it was raining really bad when he went down," he said.
In a conversation with the tower just seconds before the crash, the pilot asked for the runway lights to be turned brighter. The tower responded that they were already at 100%. Robert Katz, a commercial pilot and flight instructor, said weather most certainly played a factor in the crash.
“It is possible that this pilot found himself back in the clouds, very low to the ground, in a steep turn and became instantly disoriented,” he said.
But Katz also said it also appears that the pilot made too sharp of a turn heading to the runway, causing what's called - an accelerated stall. “The airplane will stop flying and it falls out of the sky like a rock,” Katz said, adding that it’s a miracle that no one on the ground was injured and no homes destroyed.”
The crash did take out several power lines. A handful of customers still didn't have electricity as of Tuesday night, but SDG&E said it should be restored Wednesday.
Meanwhile, federal investigators were at the scene. They started the long process of figuring out exactly what happened, and why.
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