A business jet crashed in low-visibility conditions in the Southern California city of Murrieta early Saturday, killing all six on board, authorities said.
It happened after another small plane, a Cessna 172, crashed just four days prior, on July 4, in Murrieta, killing its pilot and injuring three children on board, Riverside County Sheriff’s Department officials said.
In Saturday’s crash, the Cessna jet was making a second approach to land at Murrieta’s French Valley Airport, having abandoned its first for unknown reasons, when it went down about 4:15 a.m., according to local and federal officials.
The victims were identified by the Riverside County Coroner’s Office as Alma Razick, 51, Ibrahem Razick, 46, Lindsey Gleiche, 31, Manuel Vargas-Regalado, 32, Riese Lenders, 25 and Abigail Tellez-Vargas, 33.
Just 20 minutes before, the National Weather Service published an observation that low clouds from the coast had moved in to the Murrieta area, with the top of the clouds, or the cloud deck, standing at 300 feet, according to NWS meteorologist Brandt Maxwell.
Visibility was measured at 3/4 mile, he said. The clouds, he said, were “very low for aviation purposes.” It wasn’t clear if the pilots would have been made aware.
At exactly 4:15 a.m., the weather service published an observation that visibility in the area had been reduced further to 1/2 mile, according to Maxwell, an aviation specialist based in nearby San Diego.
The airport is 1,348 above sea level, and coastal clouds that sneak in through a small pass between the Palomar Mountains in San Diego County and the Santa Ana Mountains in Orange County end up at its virtual knee caps, reducing visibility in the area, he said.
First responders found the aircraft “fully engulfed in flames in a field,” according to a news release from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.
The Cessna C550 business jet departed from Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas with French Valley Airport as its destination, according to a statement from the Federal Aviation Administration.
All six occupants of the plane were pronounced dead at the scene. Officials have not identified the victims.
The plane’s owner, Michael Morris of Prestige Worldwide Flights, LLC, said there were two pilots on board, one of whom was acting as a co-pilot. Of the others, he said three were people he considers to be “close friends.”
The pilots were diligent and “highly trained,” he said. “I don’t understand the circumstances,” Morris said.
Morris declined to identify the deceased because some of their family members were yet to be notified. “The crash left 11 children without parents,” he said.
The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are investigating the incident.
NTSB investigators were expected to be on-site Saturday night.
“Part of the investigation will be to request radar data, weather information, maintenance records and the pilot’s medical records,” the NTSB said in a statement.
In the July 4 crash, the Cessna’s pilot, identified as 39-year-old Jared Newman, was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the sheriff’s department.
Three minors were taken to an area hospital “with different degrees of injuries,” the department said in a news release.
The NTSB is also investigating that incident.
POST AUTHOR: Mirna Alsharif and Dennis Romero and Erick Mendoza and Bill Feather