The small plane that crashed into a building on the Watsonville Community Hospital campus earlier this month, killing a Santa Cruz family of four, spiraled down nose-first in two tight turns but appeared to begin to recover, two witnesses told National Transportation Safety Board investigators.
Then the plane disappeared behind trees, and the witnesses saw smoke and fire.
The NTSB published a preliminary crash report Thursday. In clinical language, investigators described the final moments for the Houghton family and stated that David Houghton had been a licensed pilot for less than four months.
Investigators said the 1974 Mooney—a single-engine, fixed-wing, four-seater—had taken off from the around 7:20 p.m. on July 7. Witnesses said the plane's takeoff appeared abnormally steep, and the plane started to roll to the left, the direction of the hospital, when it reached an altitude of about 500 feet and "nearly inverted."
"The nose 'dropped,' so that it was pointing toward the ground.
It descended rapidly and completed about two 'tight turns,'" the report stated.
The plane hit the parking lot about 700 feet from the airport and skidded 130 feet while the propellers continued to power the aircraft, according to the report. The turning propellers left slash marks on the asphalt.
David Houghton was a novice pilot, according to the Live Oak man who purchased the plane with him in November 2010. He got his pilot's license on March 17 and had tallied about 140 hours of flying time, most of which was accrued during his flight training, the NTSB report stated.
David and one of his sons were seated at the plane's controls, authorities have reported. Dede and the other boy were in the rear seats of the plane.
The family had been destined for Pine Mountain Lake Airport in Groveland, near Yosemite.
The Federal Aviation Administration investigated another Watsonville aircraft accident Wednesday, when . The pilot walked away from the crash.