The National Transportation Safety Board has launched its investigation into the fatal plane crash that left a passenger dead and a pilot injured in the parking lot of a busy Kearny Mesa shopping center.
The fixed wing, single-engine Mooney M20L crashed in a parking lot between a Target store and the Costco Business Center off Convoy Street around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. It landed near parked cars but away from the main entrances to the stores.
The aircraft missed bystanders on the ground, though a couple of people did sustain minor burns trying to help the pilot and her passenger out of the wreckage.
“It was really heroic on the part of those people with those fire extinguishers that put out that fire quickly as they did and then got the two occupants out of the airplane," said NTSB Air Safety Investigator Tom Little at a news briefing Thursday.
The 52-year-old pilot survived the crash, while the 78-year-old passenger suffered serious burns and later died at the hospital. The San Diego County Medical Examiner's officer identified the passenger Thursday as Joy Gorian.
“The pilot has survived and is cognizant of her surroundings, I’m told, and is recovering," Little said. He did not know the extent of her injuries.
What happened in the minutes before the crash remains unclear. Little said the plane had flown to Riverside and back earlier in the day.
“The initial report that I have, which still needs to be followed up, was the aircraft bounced on a landing at the Montgomery Airport on runway 27 right I believe. Subsequently, a go-around was begun and the pilot did radio she was having problems and she was losing power. That was her last transmission," he said.
As the plane went down, the right wing scraped the roof of the Target before hitting a light pole and crashing.
The investigation into the cause of the crash could be lengthy. Little said investigations like this usually last six to nine months, but could take up to a year.
In the next two or three weeks, the NTSB and FAA will meet with plane manufacturer Mooney and engine manufacturer Continental Motors.
“At that time, we’ll do a detailed examination of the engine and the air frame, and hopefully by that time we will have been able to talk with the surviving pilot as to what actually occurred to the best of her memory,” Little said.
Aviation safety consultant Rich Martindell, a pilot himself for the past 50 years, said one of the benefits of the crash is that there is a survivor.
“Having someone that was on the plane to talk to [helps] facilitate the investigation,” he said. “These planes don’t have black boxes so the only way to know what happened is by radio calls or talking to someone flying. [That’s] very helpful for the investigation.”
Crews were in the process of removing the plane from the parking lot Thursday afternoon. The wreckage will then be taken to a salvage yard in Phoenix.
Little said the pilot had a medical certificate and was legal to fly, but did not identify her.
According to FAA records, the aircraft is co-owned but registered to San Diego resident William Logan. Family members told NBC 7 William Logan was not on the aircraft when it crashed and said Devon Logan – the other co-owner – was one of the women aboard.