3 Tesla workers die when plane hits N. Calif. home

EAST PALO ALTO, Calif. (AP) - A twin-engine plane carrying three
employees of electric car maker Tesla Motors struck a set of power
lines after takeoff Wednesday and crashed into a fog-shrouded
residential neighborhood, raining fiery debris over homes, sending
residents running for safety and killing everyone aboard.
But the crash somehow caused no injuries or deaths on the ground
despite a wing slamming into a home where a day care center
operated. The seven people inside the house, including an infant,
all escaped moments before the home went up in flames.
Menlo Park Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said the Cessna 310
either struck a 100-foot electrical tower or clipped its power
transmission lines and broke apart, dropping debris throughout the
working-class Silicon Valley neighborhood. It was not immediately
clear if the dense fog played a role in the crash.
The city of Palo Alto said most of the city and surrounding area
- about 28,000 customers - had no electricity for most of the day
because of the crash.
A spokeswoman for Palo Alto-based Facebook Inc. said its offices
were without power but the outage was not affecting the Web site.
Hewlett-Packard Co.'s corporate headquarters also were dark, and
employees were asked to find other places to work Wednesday, a
spokeswoman said.
The crash rattled Tesla Motors, one of only a few companies
producing and selling purely electric cars. The identities of the
employees were not released. The plane was owned by Doug Bourn of
Santa Clara, identified by a Tesla spokesman as a senior electrical
engineer at the company.
"Tesla is a small, tightly knit company, and this is a tragic
day for us," Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a statement.
The Cessna crashed around 7:55 a.m. shortly after takeoff from
the Palo Alto Airport and was bound for Hawthorne Municipal Airport
in Southern California, according to the Federal Aviation
Administration. The crash site is one mile northwest of the
airport, near Tesla's headquarters in San Carlos.
A wing fell onto the house where a children's day care operated,
and the rest of the plane struck the front retaining wall of
another house down the street before landing on two vehicles on the
street, Schapelhouman said. Debris also struck two neighboring
houses, he said.
Pamela Houston, an employee of the day care, said she was
feeding an infant when she heard a loud boom that she initially
thought was an earthquake until she "saw a big ball of fire hit
the side of the house."
Houston said she screamed to the others in the house - the
owner, the owner's husband and their three children - and the group
safely escaped before the home went up in flames.
"There are not even words to describe what it felt like," she
said. "I am very thankful to God that he allowed us to get out."
The occupants of the homes have been accounted for, although
authorities can't be completely sure of the fatality count until
crews begin clearing the wreckage, Schapelhouman said.
"Either by luck or the skill of the pilot, the plane hit the
street and not the homes on either side," he added. "That saved
people in this community."
Kate McClellan, 57, said she was walking her dog when she saw a
plane descend from the foggy sky and strike the tower, causing
power lines to swing wildly in the air.
"It burst into flames, and then it kept flying for bit before
it hit some houses and exploded," McClellan said.
The crash comes at a difficult time for Tesla, which employs 515
people worldwide and just three weeks ago disclosed plans to hold
an initial public offering of stock. In its filing with the
Securities and Exchange Commission, the company said its future
business is dependent on the successful rollout of new vehicles.
The two-door Roadster sports car is the only product that the
money-losing company currently sells, retailing for $109,000. It
has sold about 1,000 since its inception, and its next vehicle -
the Model S sedan - is due in showrooms in 2012. It has a base
price of $57,400, although a federal tax credit could reduce the
cost to less than $50,000.
Tesla has not said when specifically it plans to go public, nor
has it said how much it intends to raise.
Thanawala reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writers
Jason Dearen and Marcus Wohlsen in San Francisco also contributed
to this report.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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