Small plane crash kills 3 in Montgomery County

Joseph A. Gambardello, Patricia Madej and Vinny Vella
The Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA — A small plane crashed Thursday morning into the backyards of homes in Upper Moreland Township, killing all three people on board.

The crash occurred about 6:20 a.m., creating what officials called a large debris field.

Police Chief Michael S. Murphy said everyone on the plane was killed in the crash. Officials said later there were three people on board — a man and two women — but only two of them had been identified. Murphy said the man had a pilot license but it was not known if he had been at the controls.

Noting that the plane came down in the rear yards of a residential neighborhood, Murphy said “it’s a miracle” that no one on the ground was hurt. He said the plane crashed into a yard, hitting trees and a shed, but not harming anyone in nearby homes.

According to FlightTracker, the single-engine plane was on a flight from Northeast Philadelphia Airport to Ohio State University. Murphy said the plane was going to another destination after Ohio but didn’t provide further details. The 44-year-old Beech aircraft is registered to Jasvir Khurana, of Penn Valley.

Federal Aviation Administration officials arrived at the scene around 10 a.m., and a team from the National Transportation Safety Board, the lead agency in the investigation, was expected to get to the scene later Thursday.

Murphy anticipated that investigators would be stationed in the neighborhood for “several days.” He said local police officers were going door-to-door Thursday to see if any private surveillance systems had recorded footage of the crash.

Neighbors: Shirley Crane, 81, said she thought she heard an earthquake as she was getting dressed shortly after 6 a.m. Her husband, Chris, thought the noise was thunder.

But what they found was something they had never seen in their 50 years of living in their house.

From her deck, Shirley Crane said, she saw the small, “mangled” plane that had crashed “yards” from her house, one of four impacted by the incident.

“It was like a skip hop and a jump, we’ll put it that way,” she said.

Shirley Crane said she was grateful that she was unharmed.

“I thought to myself, it just wasn’t our day, our time, to go,” she said.

John Quatrini said he was jerked awake by a deafening sound.

“It sounded like the plane was coming right for my house,” he said. “I thought ‘This is it, I’m done.’”

The roar of the engine passed over the house he’s lived in for four decades. But the aircraft missed his home, landing about 400 yards away.

He didn’t realize the extent of the crash and its damage until hours later, when his daughter called from Florida to check in.

“It just shows you that this can happen anywhere,” he said. “We certainly didn’t expect it here.”

Other residents expressed disbelief that the noise they heard early Thursday morning was a plane crashing.

One man who lives across the street from where the plane crashed said the sound was closer to that of a car backfiring or an electrical transformer “sizzling.”

The plane left a trail of broken parts and battered trees in its wake stretching several hundred yards. It came to rest in a wooded area behind the homes, clipping and damaging the roof of a nearby shed.

According to activity logs on FlightAware, the aircraft took off from the Northeast Philadelphia airport 10 times in the last three months, including Thursday morning.

The aircraft model, a Beech F33A, has been involved seven fatal accidents in the last 10 years in the United States, according to NTSB records.