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3 Tesla Motors employees die in East Palo Alto plane crash

February 17, 2010 |  1:44 pm

Three employees of Tesla Motors Inc. were killed Wednesday morning in the crash of a small plane in East Palo Alto, the electric car maker's chief executive said in a statement.

"We are withholding their identities as we work with the relevant authorities to notify the families," Elon Musk, Tesla's CEO, said in a statement.

The plane crashed into a residential neighborhood shortly before 8 a.m., sparking house fires, downing  power lines and damaging several cars, but authorities said no one other than the plane’s three occupants were killed.

"We are working on recovery of the deceased," said Menlo Park Fire Protection Chief Harold Schapelhouman, addressing reporters down the block from where the plane crashed. "We have three dead. They were in the fuselage. There are miraculously no reports of anyone else injured."

The street where the place crashed was dotted with orange cones indicating where parts of the aircraft landed. Bodies covered with yellow blankets lay under a tree.

The Cessna 310 was registered to Air Unique Inc. of Santa Clara, owned by Doug Bourn, 57, a senior electrical engineer at Tesla Motors. It took off from Palo Alto Airport and was headed to Hawthorne, where Tesla has operations. A spokeswoman for the company said it was still seeking information about the crash and could not confirm whether the plane was traveling on company business.

The plane took off in thick fog and hit power lines and a power tower, which collapsed, authorities said. Parts of the plane were strewn over several blocks.

"As tragic as this is, we were very fortunate that no one else got hurt," Schapelhouman said.

A portion of one of the plane’s wings hit an occupied house in front of a day-care center. The center was unscathed but 50% of the house was destroyed, Schapelhouman said.

Other parts of the plane landed on a carport next door, destroying it. The engine of the plane was embedded in the garage wall of yet a third house.

A relative of a woman whose house was burned identified her as Lisa Jones-Smith, who operated a day- care center behind her home. The relative, Bre East, 44, said only one child, an 11-month-old, had arrived for child care when the plane crashed. She said she believed there were seven people inside the house; none were injured.

"Lisa was home at the time," East said. “The neighbors got her out of the house. She was trying to get her own kids to safety." East said she spoke with Jones-Smith by telephone.

"She was very shaken up," East said. "Her sentences were short and gaspy. She told me that the back end of the house is gone and the kids are safe.

"The Lord was on her side, looking out for her today. ... The lucky part is everyone is safe. You can rebuild houses, but not lives."

Several hours after the crash, Smith-Jones was taken to the hospital by paramedics. A relative who would not give her name said Smith-Jones was suffering from elevated blood pressure.

The crash knocked out power for a large area, including Stanford Hospital and Clinics. A spokeswoman for the hospital said non-emergency surgeries and clinic appointments at the hospital were canceled.

-- Maria L. LaGanga in East Palo Alto, Maura Dolan and Alexandra Zavis


3 killed aboard small plane that crashed into East Palo Alto neighborhood

Small plane crashes in East Palo Alto