A small plane owned by a prominent Indian-origin cardiologist has crashed in the US state of California, killing two persons, including the physician, and causing a major fire that engulfed nearby homes and left a swath of destruction, according to media reports.
Dr Sugata Das, who worked as an Interventional Cardiologist at Yuma Regional Medical Center (YRMC) in Arizona, owned the twin-engine Cessna C340 aircraft, media reports said
However, there's no confirmation whether Das was the pilot at the time of the crash on Monday, KYMA.com, a CBS/NBC-affiliated TV station, reported on Tuesday. "We are deeply sad to hear news of a plane owned by local cardiologist Sugata Das, which crashed near Santee (California)," YRMC's Chief Medical Officer Bharat Magu said in a statement.
"As an outstanding cardiologist and dedicated family man, Das leaves a lasting legacy. We extend our prayers and support to his family, colleagues, and friends during this difficult time," Magu said on the Pune-born doctor.
A family friend told NBC 7 that Das worked at the YRMC but lived in San Diego, flying back and forth frequently. The crash near Santana High School in Santee, a suburb of some 50,000 people, appeared to have sparked a fire that burned at least two homes, damaged five others and several vehicles, but responding firefighters were able to put out the blaze before it spread to other houses.
Another person who died was a UPS worker who was on the ground. United Parcel Service of America Inc. confirmed that one of its employees was killed during the plane crash.
"We are heartbroken by the loss of our employee, and extend our deepest condolences to his family and friends. We also send our condolences for the other individuals who are involved in this incident, and their families and friends." KXTV, an ABC affiliate, reported, citing a statement issued by the UPS.
The City of Santee said that in addition to two fatalities, two other victims had been transferred to a hospital in unknown condition. Debris litters a block-long area, and power in the neighborhood has been turned off.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the plane crashed at about 12:15 p.m. on Monday. "We do not yet know how many people were on board, it said. San Diego County spokesperson Donna Durckel said the plane had taken off from Yuma, Arizona, and intended to land at San Diego's Montgomery Field, media reports said. But the pilot had an emergency and made a crash landing, Durckel said.
In audio of Das' exchanges with Air Traffic Control about a half-mile from the runway, a controller can be heard telling Das his plane is too low. Low altitude alert, climb immediately, climb the airplane, NBC 7 quoted the controller as telling Das.
The controller repeatedly urges him to climb to 5,000 feet, and when it remains at 1,500 feet warns: You appear to be descending again, sir.
Jim Slaff, who got a call from his neighbours about the incident, said his parents lived in one of the homes and were rushed to hospital, but was not sure the extent of their injuries.
Slaff described the scene to FOX 5 channel as something you would see in a war zone. The FAA said it and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash.
The Cessna C340 is usually used for business and is pressurised. The plane has the capacity to seat six passengers, with two seats in the front and two in the back.
Born in a Bengali family, Das grew up in Pune. He was also the director of the Power of Love Foundation, a US non-profit organisation that is involved in helping women and children overseas that are infected or affected by AIDS and HIV, according to its website.
The website said Das, the father of two boys, lived in San Diego and was the owner of a twin-engine Cessna 340 and as well as an RV9A, a two-seat, single-engine aircraft. An instrument-rated pilot, Das flew between his home and Yuma.