3 Dead in Calif. Small Plane Crash

Menlo Park firemen look at the scene of a small plane that crashed into a house in East Palo Alto, Calif., Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2010. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
AP Photo/Paul Sakuma
Updated at 4:51 p.m. ET

The three people killed on board a small plane that went down in a Northern California neighborhood were all employees of Tesla Motors Inc.

The employees of the car manufacturer died when a small plane crashed, igniting fires and scattering debris onto a house where a children's day care center operated, authorities said.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk confirms that three employees of the electric car manufacturer were aboard the plane, but would not release their identities.

"Tesla is a small, tightly-knit company, and this is a tragic day for us," Musk wrote on the company's Web site.

Authorities also have not identified the victims. The crash site is one mile northwest of the airport, near Tesla's headquarters in San Carlos.

California Plane Crash

Earlier, a California television news station reported that one of the victims was a high-ranking official at Tesla. Daniel Morales told KTVU-TV he had flown with the pilot and was at the airport Wednesday. Morales identifed the pilot to the station as a Tesla official.

The plane is registered to Air Unique Inc., and state records show that the company is owned by Doug Bourn of Santa Clara. A Tesla spokesman has said Bourn is a senior electrical engineer at the company. No one answered the phone number listed for the Santa Clara company Wednesday morning.

The crash set fire to two homes and two vehicles in the East Palo Alto cul-de-sac. Menlo Park Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said the fires were under control. The plane either struck a 100-foot electrical tower or clipped its power transmission lines and broke apart, sending debris raining down on the working-class Silicon Valley neighborhood, Schapelhouman said.

A wing fell onto one house, where a children's day care operated, and the rest of the plane struck the front retaining wall of another house down the street before landing onto two vehicles on the street, he said.

(Scroll down to watch videos KPIX-TV submitted from the crash site)

The occupants of the homes have been accounted for, although authorities can't be sure of the fatality count until crews begin clearing the wreckage, Schapelhouman said.

"Either by luck or the skill of the pilot, the plane hit the street and not the homes on either side," he added. "That saved people in this community."

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor says a Cessna 310 crashed shortly after takeoff from the Palo Alto Airport at 7:55 a.m. PT.

Schapelhouman says the plane broke apart after clipping a power transmission line. He says a wing fell onto one house and the rest of the plane struck the retaining wall of another house down the street. Gregor says the plane had been headed to Hawthorne Municipal Airport in Southern California.

Some neighbors are trapped inside their homes because there are live power wires surrounding the houses, CBS News Station KPIX-TV in San Francisco reports. The sheriff's office told the news station the plane also took out three cars.

One child was there at the time, Pamela Houston, 33, who works at the center, told KPIX-TV.

"When we heard the initial explosion I thought it was an earthquake," Houston told KPIX-TV. "Then I looked out the window and saw fire."

Houston said she screamed to the others in the house - the owner, the owner's husband and their three children - and the group safely escaped before the home went up in flames.

"There are not even words to describe what it felt like," she said. "I am very thankful to God that he allowed us to get out."

"It's pretty dismal," Art Jones told KPIX-TV.

Alisha Morris, 17, the niece of the preschool's owner, was shaken by Wednesday morning's events.

"I would never expect a plane to hit here," she told KPIX-TV. "It was unexpected and scary. It makes me think anything could happen now."

(At left, the site of Wednesday's crash site is seen from a KPIX-TV helicopter.)

Marie McKenzie, who lives several blocks away from the crash site, 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 told KPIX-TV. "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 told KPIX-TV.

Patricia Armistead, who lives around the corner from the crash site, was home sick and was in a back room of her house when the plane crashed.

"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 told KPIX-TV. "You couldn't really see anything because the fog was so thick."

Armistead saw a few flames from her house, she told KPIX-TV.

The city of Palo Alto, which provides power through a municipal utility agency, said most of the city and surrounding area had lost power due to Wednesday's plane crash.

"We have multiple crews on scene investigating," said Joe Molica, a PG&E spokesman. "The crash appears to have affected three transmission lines that serve the city of Palo Alto's municipal utility."

Lucile Packard Children's Hospital and Stanford Hospital both were operating on backup generators and canceled elective surgeries for the day, according to hospitals spokesman Robert Dicks.

The plane crashed in a neighborhood known as "the Gardens," across from the Palo Alto Airport.

Visibility in the Bay Area was extremely poor Wednesday, the San Jose Mercury News reports. The area's three commercial airports were fogged in, Mineta San Jose International Airport spokesman David Vossbrink told the newspaper. At least 16 Southwest flights have been canceled there, the newspaper reports.

Local Video from CBS 5 in San Francisco

Local Video from CBS 5 in San Francisco

Local Video from CBS 5 in San Francisco