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3 Die And 2 Survive After Plane Crashes Into Homes East Of LA

Three of the five people who were aboard a small plane when it crashed into a neighborhood in Riverside, Calif., have died, in a crash that occurred shortly after the craft took off Monday afternoon. Residents were not at home when the plane hit one house; fire destroyed another.

The survivors — two women in their late 30s or early 40s — were ejected from the plane and into the house, leading to initial confusion over whether they lived there or not, Riverside Fire Chief Michael Moore said late Monday.

The group was from the San Jose area and had attended a weekend cheerleading competition at Disneyland, officials said. Their plane went down only about a mile from its takeoff at Riverside Municipal Airport. Their identities have not been released.

The plane crashed into the homes at around 4:40 p.m. local time, Moore said. Firefighters who responded to the scene quickly located the survivors, and one of them was able to tell them that there were more people on board the plane.

"Upon impact, the plane pretty much split apart, and luckily she was ejected, and [with] very minor injuries, even though we're treating her as a critical patient," he said.

Moore said a piece of the wreckage had been found "at least a half-mile away."

Local newspaper The Press Enterprise reports, "The impact felt like an earthquake, neighbors said, and sent up a 'big orange ball of fire' that could be seen blocks away.

TV station KCAL spoke to a witness.

"I've seen one of the ladies who was on the plane coming out of the house trying to get out, and people rushing over to help her," Bella Aguelar, who lives near the struck homes, told the station. "I saw one other person get pulled out, and they were alive, but they were burned."

Emergency crews were confronted with a confusing scene in the wreckage, as they struggled to determine whether any of the victims had been in the homes that were hit, or if they had been traveling in the plane.

The National Transportation Safety Board will determine the circumstances around the crash, Moore said.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.