Small plane crashes near Calif. hospital; 2 dead

July 8, 2011 - 4:59 AM

WATSONVILLE, Calif. (AP) — Moments after takeoff, a small plane crashed into a parking lot near a California hospital and burst into flames as it skidded into an unoccupied office building, killing the two people on board, authorities said.

The single-engine plane skidded about 50 to 75 yards across the lot next to Watsonville Community Hospital before hitting the front of the building, Watsonville Deputy Police Chief Rudy Escalante said.

No one on the ground was injured in Thursday night's crash and the aircraft did not hit the hospital.

The pair had just taken off from nearby the city's airport when their plane went down at around 7:30 p.m. Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Lynn Lunsford said. There was no immediate word on the cause of the crash.

Photos showed the charred tail end of the aircraft sticking out from the one-story building, part of which had been blackened by smoke. Damage appeared contained to an area at the end of the building.

Escalante said the building appeared to be structurally sound despite the crash.

Witness Thomas Arnold was in the parking lot when he heard the plane overhead. He told the Santa Cruz Sentinel that the plane came careening sideways across the parking lot about 15 feet above his head.

"I saw two faces and two big sets of eyes," the 34-year-old Arnold said of the occupants.

Hospital spokeswoman Cindy Weigelt said the building housed mainly physicians' offices and was across a street from the hospital.

"None of our patients was affected," she told The Associated Press. "It did not hit the hospital."

She estimated that the medical office building was about 100 yards from the airport runway.

Witness George Benson told the Sentinel that he watched the plane take off and saw the pilot appear to attempt to clear a line of fog.

"He was heading toward the coast and tried to climb," Benson said. "From the time he took off he was going too steep, too slow."

The names of the two people killed haven't been released. No evacuations were ordered from the hospital.

The plane was a 1974 single-engine Mooney M20, Escalante said.

Watsonville is located near Monterey Bay, about 90 miles south of San Francisco.