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3 Killed in Midair Collision of 2 Small Airplanes

February 09, 2006|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Three people died in a midair collision Wednesday of two small planes above El Cajon, about 10 miles east of downtown, according to emergency officials.

Burning debris was spread over several residential streets and a park, but there were no injuries on the ground, said El Cajon Fire Chief Mike Scott. "The incident is under control," he said.

Metal pieces punctured the roof of one home, causing an attic fire. Neighbors dashed in but found no one there. Within 15 minutes, firefighters had arrived and extinguished the blaze.

Debris fell in Harry Griffen Park in La Mesa, near homes and Grossmont High School. Panicky parents rushed to the park and school to retrieve their children.

The collision occurred about 4:45 p.m. with clear skies and mild wind. Residents reported hearing an explosion and seeing a huge fireball.

The area is near Gillespie Field, an airport for small craft. But the area is not controlled by an air-traffic tower; planes follow "see and avoid" rules.

Officials were unsure of the type of aircraft and who owned them. "Our information from Gillespie is that they are tracking three missing aircraft," said La Mesa Fire Chief Dave Burke.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration were examining the scene.

Officials asked residents not to touch the debris.

Some people were unable to get to their homes because of a cordon set up by officials. The Red Cross arranged a center at a nearby school.

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