WATSONVILLE, Calif. -- A four-passenger airplane crashed into Watsonville Community Hospital about 7:30 p.m. Thursday, killing two people, according to Fire Chief Mark Bisbee. Witness George Benson said he saw the plane take off. The pilot appeared to be trying to clear the fog line.
Benson, a Watsonville pilot, was in the industrial park adjacent to the Watsonville Municipal Airport. He said the single-engine light brown Mooney aircraft was a four-seater. "He was heading toward the coast and tried to climb," Benson said. "From the time he took off he was going too steep, too slow. He spun to the left and you can see where the impact was," Benson said.
"He didn't have any time for recovery," Benson added, suggesting he'd have used the cross runway. Fog typically rolls in over South County during the summer, settling in as night falls, often causing issues for pilots taking off from the airport.
The plane, rolling south as it fell from the sky, crashed into the hospital's administrative offices, the first building upon entering the hospital complex. Officials say no one was inside at the time. The plane hit the offices of Dr. Cheryl Northey, an obstetrician and gynecologist.
Thomas Arnold, 34, of Watsonville, was in the parking lot next to the administration building preparing to move his car when he heard the plane overhead.
Arnold, whose fiancee is in labor inside the hospital, said the plane came careening sideways across the parking lot about 15 feet above his head. "I saw two faces and two big sets of eyes," Arnold said of the passengers inside the plane.
The plane hit the pavement just two spaces from his car sending the propeller flying and ripping part of the wing off. The plane bounced off the pavement, leaving a chunk of asphalt missing, and slammed into the building, Arnold said.
"It exploded when it hit the building and engulfed in flames," he said.
Surgical technician Rick Cervantes said he was in surgery and heard the crash. He and his partner ran out with two fire extinguishers and attempted to put out the flames before firefighters arrived.
Arnold said the hospital smells of smoke and some of the sprinklers inside deployed.
Hospital spokeswoman Cindy Weigelt said the hospital was not affected by the crash and all areas remain operational.
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The administration building is connected to the main hospital via a hallway and was not open at the time of the crash. Northey, who was not at her office at the time, surveyed the damage Thursday night. She said "It's too bad, and I don't even know who died or how many." Northey has had her office at the hospital for 11 years. She said she is accustomed to seeing airplanes taking off given the hospital's proximity to the airport, but "has never seen anything like this." She said Watsonville police and the hospital will help her secure the medical records as soon as it's safe to enter the office. She said her first priority was the safety of the records and finding another spot to see her pregnant patients, whose care, given the nature of their condition, cannot be delayed.
"As soon as we can get in, we will get in there and secure our records," Northey said.
Dr. Ali Khademi, a gastroenterologist, was in an administrative meeting at the hospital when the plane crashed. He said he did not see or hear the crash, but heard the sirens. "I don't think anyone was in the office thank God. It was after hours.
Otherwise it would have been even worse," Khademi said.
(c) 2011, Santa Cruz Sentinel (Santa Cruz, Calif.).
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