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Three Tesla Motors employees were killed when a twin-engine Cessna 310 taking off in thick fog crashed into a residential East Palo Alto neighborhood this morning, the company's chief executive said this afternoon.
The victims were all aboard the plane, San Mateo County sheriff's spokesman Lt. Ray Lunny said. Menlo Park Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said there are no reports of any injuries on the ground.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk released a statement this afternoon confirming the victims were all Tesla employees.
"We are withholding their identities as we work with the relevant authorities to notify the families," Musk said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with them. Tesla is a small, tightly knit company, and this is a tragic day for us."
The plane that crashed was registered to Douglas Bourn, a Santa Clara resident and a senior electrical engineer at Tesla who helped design the power module for the company's famous Roadster.
William Kohl said Bourn has lived across the street from him on Wilson Court for many years.
Kohl said during a conversation with him years ago, Bourn said he was a flight instructor at the Palo Alto Airport and worked for Tesla Motors in San Carlos.
The crash happened shortly before 8 a.m. on Beech Street near Pulgas Avenue. Schapelhouman said parts of the plane came off and landed on homes, and that the body of the plane landed in the street and skidded a distance, ricocheting off a low wall and igniting vegetation and several cars.
Just before it crashed, the plane struck a PG&E tower, which caused a wing to snap off and land on the rear of a home at 1225 Beech St., Schapelhouman and residents said.
The home serves as a day care center, and one child was there at the time, said Pamela Houston, 33, who teaches at the center.
"When we heard the initial explosion I thought it was an earthquake," Houston said. "Then I looked out the window and saw fire."
Houston, the woman who owns the home and her family ran outside with the one child who was there and called 911. She said about seven or eight kids show up each day but that most hadn't arrived yet.
Houston said it seemed like a long time before firefighters arrived.
The crash also damaged another home and two parked cars.
Alisha Morris, 17, the niece of the day care center's owner, was shaken by this morning's events. "I would never expect a plane to hit here," she said. "It was unexpected and scary. It makes me think anything could happen now."
Marie McKenzie, who lives several blocks away on Myrtle Street, said she has been advocating for the past three years to have planes stop flying over the neighborhood.
"It's a flagrant disregard for the community," she said. "We don't want that in our neighborhood." She said planes fly low overhead daily and create a lot of noise.
"The crash shows that this is dangerous," she said. "Individual pilots are different than commercial pilots. The foggy conditions are inappropriate to fly in."
The FAA believes the plane was a twin-engine Cessna 310 that departed from Palo Alto Airport and was headed for Hawthorne Municipal Airport south of Los Angeles, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said.
It crashed shortly after takeoff, Gregor said. The cause of the crash has not been determined.
Patricia Armistead, who lives around the corner on Pulgas Avenue, was home sick and was in a back room of her house when the crash happened.
"I was on my computer and I heard a great big crash and my whole house shook, and when I went outside I heard there was a plane that went down a couple houses from me," she said.
"You couldn't really see anything because the fog was so thick," she said, although she did see a few flames.
Armistead said shortly before 9 a.m. that streets had been shut down and that emergency responders had filled the area. She said the neighborhood is adjacent to the Palo Alto airport. "We hear the planes taking off and landing all the time because we're so close," she said.
Power outages have been reported through East Palo Alto and Palo Alto, and parts of Menlo Park. Stanford Hospital is running on generators, a spokesman said.