Pilot dies when small plane crashes on Dunlap Elementary School grounds
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Pilot dies when small plane crashes on Dunlap Elementary School grounds

From the May 20 recap: Santa Maria news you may have missed today series
  • Updated

The pilot of a small plane died Wednesday when it crashed onto blacktop on the Ralph Dunlap Elementary School campus on Oak Knoll Road in Orcutt about 10:45 a.m., according to the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

County Fire Capt. Daniel Bertucelli said the aircraft sustained significant damage and burst into flames when it came down between basketball hoops, sending up a column of smoke visible throughout the neighborhood.

“There was a significant header of smoke coming from this area,” Bertucelli said. “The first responding engine company was reporting heavy smoke from a significant distance away.”

The pilot, who was the only occupant, died in the crash, but no one else was injured, Bertucelli said.

“There were no children in the area at the time, and there’s minor damage to some exterior containers but no damage to the school,” Bertucelli said.

He said little was known about the pilot or the aircraft, except that it was a private plane and not one associated with the military. He also said there was a parachute coming out of the back of the craft but it was unknown if it was from the plane or the pilot.

A resident whose backyard abuts a corner of the school said he heard the crash.

“I was sitting in the chair [and] I heard this loud, terrible, terrible blast,” said Floyd Osborn, a resident of Barnette Road. “And I just stepped out because I thought it was our house. And then all of a sudden I saw the smoke coming.”

Osborn said he ran toward the school, where someone tried to call 911 but couldn’t get through, apparently because of the volume of calls.

Bertucelli said 911 operators received multiple calls reporting the crash.

“It’s funny, because the basketball poles — they’re not bent or anything, so they didn’t get hit,” Osborn added. “So I don’t know if it fell straight down. … I thought our house was hit. The way it sounded from mine — terrible.”

The registration number partially visible on the burned airplane included N883, and the website flightaware.com, which tracks aircraft, showed a potential flight that could have been the one that crashed.

A Cirrus SR20 with registration number N883PJ, owned by West by Southwest Investments LLC, left Van Nuys Airport at 9:45 a.m. on a direct flight to Santa Maria Public Airport traveling about 145 mph at an altitude of about 6,300 feet.

The aircraft was last seen at 10:43 a.m. near Santa Maria, dropping to 800 feet at 104 mph.

The Cirrus SR20 and SR22 are both equipped with all-aircraft parachutes designed to deploy in the case of an in-air problem and lower the aircraft safely to the ground, provided the plane has sufficient altitude when the 'chute is deployed.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are conducting the investigation into the crash, Bertucelli said.

He asked that anyone with information about the crash call the Sheriff’s Office. The Santa Maria Station can be reached at 805-934-6150, the headquarters number is 805-681-4100 and the nonemergency dispatch line is 805-683-2724.

Online Editor Jason Alexander and Assistant Managing Editor Len Wood contributed to this story.


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The following is taken from the Santa Maria Police Department's calls-for-service log and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office daily arrest log. Those appearing as "arrested" are only suspected of the crime indicated but are presumed innocent.

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