The plane's tail section amid the charred house
It sounded like a bomb went off on the afternoon of December 9th. I was inside my house on Chandler Drive when I felt and heard the sound of a powerful impact followed by an explosion coming from the rear of my house.
"The plane had touched down in the Lafayette schoolyard but was unable to stop, ripping through my fence and through my yard."
My mind raced as I ran toward the back door, attempting (and failing) to process what had just happened.
Reaching the patio door, the first thing I saw was our wood fence and Lafayette Elementary School’s eight-foot-tall chain-link fence behind it (which spanned the entire length of our property and beyond) and discovered that both fences had been completely ripped apart and were lying in our pool. The eight-foot metal poles that had supported the fence were bent to the ground and our wood fence had been shattered into fragments.
Plane crash site, December 9, 2017
In disbelief, I ran forward and an unbelievably horrific scene came into view. The tail of a burning six-passenger Beechcraft airplane was hanging over my fence, the right wing severed and laying in my yard and the front end of the plane inside the rear of my neighbor's house, everything engulfed in flames.
Then I heard the repeated screams from a woman standing 20 feet from the plane, screaming, “Help, my husband, he’s inside, he’s dead!”
The flight path
It was inconceivable that anyone could have survived the burning plane wreckage so I concluded that my neighbor had perished in the house when the plane had slammed into it. I later learned that the woman was a survivor of the crash and that she was screaming for her husband who was still in the plane.
I was in a panic, but as a photographer I knew I had to record quickly what I was seeing and got a 14-second video clip on my phone before I ran back through my house and out into the front yard.
I grabbed my garden hose and started spraying water alternately on the roof of my neighbor’s burning house and then onto the roof of my house, which was separated by no more than eight feet.
In the meantime, the bravest neighbor on our street jumped off his roof where he had been working, broke out the side windows of the burning house, and screamed inside, “Is anybody in there?!”
Investigators and collected wreckage
I learned the following day that he had actually gained access to the house interior to look for survivors but the black smoke was so thick that he had to retreat.
The first fireman arrived within two minutes of the crash; he walked past me stating calmly, “I heard there might be an airplane involved.” I screamed, “Yes! An airplane crashed into the house!” To which he responded in disbelief, “You’re kidding me!”
The heat from the burning wreckage and the house, fed by an estimated 50 to 80 gallons of aviation fuel, quickly became too intense, so I had to retreat. The fire crews extinguished the flames within about 15 minutes, preventing my house and any neighborhood houses from also becoming involved.
Two of the plane’s four passengers perished but somehow the pilot and one passenger survived. The miracles continued to reveal themselves when the following day I saw my neighbors Daniel and Max return to their burned-out house, seeing it for the first time. I showed them both the video I shot, pointing out the time-stamp was 4:35 p.m. Max just then realized that he had left the house for work only 20 minutes prior.
Marcia Field points out the room in which she normally would have been sleeping
Max exclaimed that his wife and two-year-old daughter, who would have normally been home at that time, were in New York. Daniel said he had been planning to take a nap in his room in the back of the house (where the plane hit) but his girlfriend had convinced him to leave the house and take a walk on the beach.
Upon surveying the damage to my backyard I learned from one of the investigating officials that the plane had touched down in the Lafayette schoolyard but was unable to stop. It ripped through my fence and through my yard, finally hitting the neighbor’s house while traveling at an estimated speed of 100 mph.
The 120-foot section of the chain-link fence that remained intact was wrapped around the nose of the plane like a net, which likely helped change the course of the plane just enough to miss my 83-year-old mother’s bedroom by only several feet. Normally she'd be napping at that time, but she was out shopping for a Christmas tree. The fence also helped bring the plane to a stop, preventing it from continuing further into the house, making the difference that allowed the two passengers to escape.
Reportedly, the plane had just taken off from Montgomery Field and an eyewitness heard it sputtering before it hit the ground, apparently failing to make a landing in the elementary school's playing field. Two of the plane's four passengers — including the pilot — survived. A dog that was in the burning house died; another dog that had run away from the scene was found safe on December 13th.