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‘Multiple fatalities’ reported after two small planes collide mid-air at California airport, officials say


(WATSONVILLE, Calif.) — Three people are dead after two small planes collided mid-air at a California airport on Thursday, authorities said.

The crash occurred shortly before 3 p.m. local time at the Watsonville Municipal Airport in Watsonville, an agricultural area located about 50 miles south of San Jose, officials said.

The two planes were attempting to land when they collided, the city of Watsonville said on social media. “We have reports of multiple fatalities,” it said.

A single-engine Cessna 152 and a twin-engine Cessna 340 “collided while the pilots were on their final approaches,” the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.

One person was in the Cessna 152 and two were in the Cessna 340, the agency said. No injuries were reported to anyone on the ground.

The Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Office said Friday that all three onboard the planes were killed in the crash. The names of the victims will be released following family notification. All three victims were adults, airport officials said.

Based on preliminary information, it appears one aircraft was operating in the traffic pattern, and the other was coming in to land, Fabian Salazar, an air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, told reporters during a briefing on Friday.

The airport is an “uncontrolled airport,” with no control tower, and pilots communicate through a traffic advisory frequency, Salazar said.

“We are working to get the radio communications that were occurring,” Salazar said.

The investigation will also consider factors such as the weather and the airspeed into the approach, he said.

Watsonville Municipal Airport Director Rayvon Williams told reporters he hasn’t seen a collision of this nature since he started there in 2011. Neither the airspace nor volume of traffic at the airport supports the cost of bringing a control tower to the field, he said.

The city tweeted Thursday that it was “absolutely saddened to hear about the tragic incident that took the lives of several people.”

“The City of Watsonville sends its deepest condolences to the friends and family of those who passed,” it added.

“We are grieving tonight from this unexpected and sudden loss,” Watsonville Mayor Ari Parker said. “I want to express my deepest and most heartfelt condolences.”

The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office said it responded to an aircraft collision on Aviation Way near the airport and secured the scene with the Watsonville Police Department.

“This afternoon, two planes collided and came to rest at and near the Watsonville airport. There are multiple fatalities right now,” Lt. Patrick Dimick said. “There are multiple fatalities. We cannot confirm anything else at this time as we’ve just secured the airport for the NTSB and FAA to arrive and conduct their investigation.”

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