A small plane crashed into two homes, leaving both a gutted shell, shortly after departing the Riverside airport late Monday afternoon in an incident a witness a mile away said felt like an earthquake.
Police began receiving phone calls about 4:41 p.m. regarding a plane crashing near a residential area at Central and Streeter avenues, Riverside Police Department Lt. Charles Payne said.
At least three victims have died and another two were transported to nearby hospitals with serious injuries, according to Riverside Fire Chief Michael Moore. Although firefighters had previously reported four fatalities with one involving a resident, Moore later said the victims were the aircraft's five passengers and no resident victims had been found.
Two homes were completely destroyed with adjacent residences suffering moderate damage, Moore added.
A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said a Cessna 310 -- a six-seat, twin-engine plane -- had departed from Riverside en route to San Jose when it crashed under unknown circumstances about a half-mile northeast of Riverside Municipal Airport.
One of the plane's passengers was ejected and was transported to Riverside Community Hospital with minor injuries, according to Moore.
"Upon impact, the plane pretty much split apart and luckily she was ejected [with] very minor injuries even though we’re treating her as a critical patient," he said.
The passenger told firefighters there were five people on board and they were in the area for a cheerleading conference taking place at Disneyland this week.
The other surviving victim was found in a home and extricated by firefighters, according to Moore. The patient was unconscious and transported to Arrowhead Memorial Hospital in San Bernardino in critical condition, he said.
Although firefighters initially believed the plane's occupants were two adults and three teenagers, they later said the two victims transported were both women in the later 30s or early 40s. The travelers were from the San Jose area, Moore said.
The National Transportation Safety Board would begin investigating in the morning to determine to cause of the crash.
Officials had earlier reported a resident was among those injured, but Moore later said firefighters were able to verify there were no residents unaccounted for with homeowners returning in the evening.
Flames and smoke were pouring from one home, which looked completely destroyed as firefighters continued to work after sunset. Debris was strewn across the home's front yard.
A neighboring home had damage as well, with its chimney apparently destroyed. At least one block of Dewey Avenue was evacuated, affecting upwards of 40 houses, Moore said.
Affected residents could seek help at a volunteer center set up by the American Red Cross on 5505 Dewey Ave. The organization would also be providing counseling services for residents throughout the week.
The inferno was mostly fuel-related as the plane had a "pretty full tank," according to Moore. It took just minutes for one home to burn to the ground, he said.
Firefighters would remain on scene throughout the night to continue monitoring small fires and ensure all residents were accounted for.
"The building I was in shook like a very short, small earthquake," H.L Reyes said on Twitter shortly after the plane struck the home.
Witness Brian Marsh told KTLA said he saw the plane go down as he and his wife were driving with their children west on Central toward Streeter Avenue.
The plane made a northbound turn before the crash, Marsh said.
“As soon as it turned, it almost stalled,” Marsh said. “It just turned and went straight toward the ground. It looked like they tried to pull out of it, but it was too late.”
He said he saw no smoke or flames coming from the plane before the impact, which occurred when it was drizzling outside.
"It's horrible," Marsh said. "My kids, the first thing they said to me was, 'Did everyone make it? And I told them, I said, 'Honey, there's no way that everyone survived that crash.'"
Marsh's wife called 911 and police arrived in less than two minutes, he said.
The crash location is in a residential area of Riverside, a little under 50 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.
Evacuees were being directed to nearby Nichols Park, Payne said.