EAST PALO ALTO, Calif. —A fog-shrouded East Palo Alto neighborhood was thrown into chaos Wednesday when a twin-engine Cessna crashed shortly after an early-morning takeoff, spilling wreckage and bodies onto a bayside cul-de-sac — and triggering a massive electrical outage that turned high-tech Palo Alto into a powerless island for 10 hours.
The pilot and two passengers — all employees of Tesla Motors — were killed and three houses were damaged, including a home day care center.
The plane brought down a high-tension transmission tower, then broke apart in a dramatic and terrifying descent over the East Palo Alto neighborhood. A wing slammed into the day care, landing gear smashed into a garage, an engine plunged into a carport and the fuselage skidded to a halt in the middle of a street. Flames shot out from houses and debris.
Miraculously, nobody on the ground was injured.
Pamela Houston and six others fled from the day care as the plane came crashing down shortly before 8 a.m.
"I grabbed the baby, and we ran into the street," she said. "We were all crying; we were screaming. There is not any word to describe the feeling."
Authorities had not released the identities of any of the victims by late Wednesday. The Cessna 310R was registered to a former Santa Clara company that was started by Doug Bourn, a Tesla engineer.
An investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board said it's too early to say whether the plane struck power lines or a 60-foot transmission tower.
At the time the plane took off, visibility was so poor — only one-eighth of a mile, and only 100 feet above the ground — that flights had been canceled or delayed at the Bay Area's three major airports. Yet, others speculated that the plane's unusual veering path suggested a mechanical failure instead. Investigators say it will be at least five days before they finish a preliminary probe and months after that for an official report into what happened.