Firefighters mop up after two houses burned. Photo by Chris Stone

Emergency crews were continuing Tuesday to clear the damage caused by a small plane that slammed into a Santee neighborhood and erupted into a fireball, gutting at least two homes while killing the pilot and a UPS driver whose truck was hit by the plummeting aircraft.

Meanwhile, an investigation into what caused the deadly crash was in its infancy.

The twin-engine Cessna C340 went down at the intersection of Greencastle and Jeremy streets in Santee about 12:15 p.m. Monday while en route from Yuma, Arizona, to Montgomery-Gibbs Executive Airport in San Diego, according to county officials and the Federal Aviation Administration.

The crash created a debris field covering a full city block, and the resulting fire destroyed two homes and damaged multiple others.

Officials at Yuma Regional Medical Center in Arizona confirmed that the pilot killed in the crash was cardiologist Dr. Sugata Das.

“As an outstanding cardiologist and dedicated family man, Dr. Das leaves a lasting legacy,” hospital chief medical officer Dr. Bharat Magu said in a statement. “We extend our prayers and support to his family, colleagues, and friends during this difficult time.”

It was unclear if there was anyone else aboard the six-seat aircraft.

In addition to his work at the hospital, Das was also a director of the nonprofit Power of Love Foundation, which works to combat AIDS and HIV around the world. According to the foundation’s website, Das owned two planes, including the Cessna, and he regularly flew between Yuma and San Diego, where his family lives. The site states that Das and his wife have two boys, aged 12 and 8.

Das was born to a Bengali family and grew up in Pune, on the western coast of India, according to the foundation website.

In a statement to City News Service, UPS confirmed that one of the delivery company’s drivers was also killed in the crash. Video from the scene indicated that the plummeting plane struck a UPS truck before slamming into a home.

“We are heartbroken by the loss of our employee, and extend our deepest condolences to his family and friends,” according to UPS. “We also send our condolences for the other individuals who are involved in this incident, and their families and friends.

“We are cooperating with the responding authorities in their investigation, and we are respectfully deferring questions to the investigating authorities.”

According to NBC7, UPS identified the driver in a letter to employees as Steve Krueger, who worked for the company for 30 years.

The National Transportation Safety Board was leading the investigation into the crash.

Although the cause will take months to determine, radio transmissions between the pilot and an air traffic controller suggest the pilot may have been disoriented, unclear if he was climbing or descending.

At one point in the audio, the controller tells the pilot to “climb immediately.”

“It looks like you’re descending sir. I need to make sure you are climbing, not descending,” the controller says, according to the audio recording.

A short time later, the controller more urgently tells the pilot, “Low altitude alert. Climb immediately. Climb the airplane.”

Following the crash, administrators at nearby Santana High School instituted a “secure campus” status following the crash, while confirming that all students were accounted for. The school returned to normal operations by mid-afternoon, according to a campus advisory.

Deputies closed Jeremy Street and North Magnolia Avenue between Mast Boulevard and Second Street while emergency crews worked to extinguish the fires and mitigate other damage caused by the plane crash. Officials temporarily shut off electrical service in the immediate area for safety reasons.

Road closures in the immediate area remained in effect Tuesday afternoon, by which time power had been restored to the neighborhood, according to city officials.

Relatives of the Morrises and of another couple whose home burned down due to the crash, Cody and Courtney Campbell, have created online contribution sites to help the victims rebuild their lives.

According to the fundraising page for the Morrises, the couple’s dog, Roxie, was killed in the crash and fire. The Morrises are both expected to recover, but both suffered second-and third-degree burns to their head, face, arms and hands, their son Jimmy wrote on the page.

Updated at 3:54 p.m. October 12, 2021

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