For the Palo Alto Airport, the fatal incident comes at a time when the future of the 75-year-old municipal facility is under consideration.
The City Council Finance Committee is scheduled on March 2 to discuss the new business plan for the airport. Santa Clara County currently operates the airport under a 50-year-lease with Palo Alto that is scheduled to expire in 2017.
County officials have indicated in recent years that they would not renew the lease once it expires. The Palo Alto City Council and city residents have been debating over the past two years whether the city should try to take over airport operations before the lease expires. At the same time, some have called for a portion of airport land to house a new composting facility — a proposal that has met resistance from local aviators.
After Wednesday's crash, some area residents said they wouldn't mind seeing the airport gone.
"They should do away with the Palo Alto Airport. We know accidents happen. They need to fly over another neighborhood," said Pamela Housten, who works for Eppie's Preschool in the 1200 block of Beech Street. She escaped from the school, which is located in a home, after it was struck by a sheared-off plane wing and caught fire.
Albertstine Pride has lived in the neighborhood since 1959. The aircraft fuselage plowed into her driveway Wednesday.
She and her daughter have talked about the planes from Palo Alto Airport many times.
"They fly too low for comfort," she said. "But I live with it."
"This is a rude awakening."
Benita Brown, another longtime resident of the Gardens neighborhood, heard two loud "booms" when the plane crashed. From her window, she saw an explosion.
Airplanes from Palo Alto Airport "used to scare me. When we added onto the house (by building the second story), you could hear the putt-putt of the plane and look out the window, and see the people in it."
But she said that "planes seem to fly higher than they used to."
Ralph Britton, co-chair of the Palo Alto Airport Association, defended the municipal airport.
"The airport's safety record is really quite good," he said. "This is certainly the first time that a plane (from the Palo Alto Airport) has crashed into a structure."
"I'm sure that there will be political repercussions from this," Britton said. "For years, some people have been against the airport, and I'm sure they will try to take advantage of this."
Standard procedures call for all planes to turn to the right a mile out from the airport, so they fly over the bay. The Cessna was to the left, off the flight path, he noted.
But about half of the planes that fly out of Palo Alto Airport do not follow this rule and fly straight towards the Dumbarton Bridge after taking off, according to an experienced local pilot who asked to remain anonymous.
Still, the area of East Palo Alto that this alternate route passes over is well north of the crash site and should not factor into questions about Wednesday's crash, the pilot said.
Another aviator, Richard Alexander, also supported the facility's track record.
"The airport's been there 60 years or so, and no one's ever hit the power lines," said Alexander, who has flown out of the airport hundreds of times.
Within the past seven or eight years, a homemade plane tipped into the Palo Alto duck pond and the pilot drowned, Britton recalled.
Harold Schapelhouman, fire chief of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District, said this is the first time a plane has crashed into a residential neighborhood in his 29 years with the district.
There have been other crashes, he said, into San Francisquito Creek, the bay and the marshes.
"This is one of the more significant crashes," Schapelhouman said.