Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 11, 2011

East Palo Alto plane crash: one year later

Residents of Beech Street neighborhood still wait for healing

by Sue Dremann

Pinkie Hudleton looked skyward, toward the sound of a small plane flying over her Beech Street home in East Palo Alto. Her eyes tracked the aircraft cautiously from the front porch of her well-tended home.

Hudleton's breathing grew tense as the plane came closer, its engines growling.

"I'm telling you, every time I hear those planes fly over, I say, 'Oh God, please don't let it come down on me,'" she said.

Feb. 17 will be the first anniversary of when a twin-engine Cessna 310R did plummet from the sky above Hudleton's home, killing three Tesla employees on board: pilot Douglas Bourn, 56, and passengers Brian Finn, 42, and Andrew Ingram, 31.

Five homes were damaged, including Hudleton's, along with several vehicles.

A year later, a few charred stains from the fire mark where the plane had skidded and burned. Hudleton's carport has long since been repaired and the damaged vehicles have been towed away, replaced or repaired. But the emotional impact has lingered in the neighborhood of quiet, neat homes.

"Money is good — we all need money," Hudleton said Tuesday afternoon. "But even if they gave me a million dollars, I still wouldn't forget that plane coming through here that morning."

Her voice dropped to barely a whisper, her eyes looked far away.

"I haven't forgotten it. I haven't forgotten," she said.

Last week, as residents greeted each other in the street, they talked about the crash's upcoming anniversary, Hudleton said. Checking in with each other by e-mail, they trade news about who has successfully received compensation for the damage and who still has not.

Talking about the crash has mostly receded from daily conversation, but the healing is still incomplete. A knot forms in the pit of the stomach and heartbeats quicken, every time a plane gets a little too close or an engine sounds a bit too rough, residents said.

In the middle of the block, Lisa Jones' home at 1225 Beech remains a constant reminder of that day's tragedy, neighbors said.

Jones' home, where Eppie's Day Care Center was located, is still boarded up. Black plastic covering a hole in the roof flaps in the wind and the city's weathered condemnation notice is peeling near the door.

"One of our members still feels very wounded," said Heather Starnes, who witnessed the crash and explosions from her front yard. "There's no closure for any of us. You can't, when one of us is still suffering."

While other residents have been able to move forward with their lives, Jones has not. Church and community leaders have donated money to an account that helps Jones with day-to-day expenses, neighbors said, but her home, which sustained structural damage, has not been repaired due to bureaucratic snafus, Jones said.

Help has come in small but meaningful ways from neighbors and friends. Starnes has taken one of Jones' daughters into her home. Monty Mouton, an East Palo Alto landscaper, has dutifully kept up Jones' vacant property, fertilizing, watering and mowing the lawn, raking leaves and pruning the rose bushes.

Jones' claim against Bourn's estate is wending its way through the courts, as are claims of several other residents, according to Santa Clara County Superior Court papers.

But Jones remains homeless and jobless, having lost her livelihood of 17 years. Nearly every day since, she has driven from her friend's home in Foster City where she is staying to the Beech Street house. On weekdays, she takes her daughter to school and then parks her station wagon in front of her damaged home. From morning until afternoon, she stays in front of the house "to keep an eye on it," she said.

"I don't want to lose all sense of my community. It's still my block. I just wanted to have a sense of belonging," Jones said Tuesday. A 15-seat van parked in the driveway used to take the children on day trips, she recalled. "It's my closet now," she said.

Jones gave a tour of the backyard where the plane struck her home. Most of the rubble has been removed, but charred debris is still visible. Colorful children's playground equipment still stands; a yellow evidence flag still pokes up out of the ground beneath the domed jungle gym.

"Look at those little chairs. They're all rusty now," she said, observing a jumble of tiny seats once inhabited by preschoolers.

When the plane hit, Jones' two daughters were asleep in their bedrooms; Jones was in the shower.

"The flames were in our faces," she recalled.

Back on the street, planes droned overhead, taking off from Palo Alto Airport's runway. The aircrafts' T-shaped forms appeared above the baylands — like white cemetery crosses pinned against the blue sky, in the eyes of some.

Soaring toward Beech Street, from Jones' vantage point, they seemed headed directly toward the power lines that had snagged Bourn's plane. But at the last moment, the planes banked right, turning away from the neighborhood and the hazardous power lines, over San Francisco Bay.

"When you see it go over, you say, 'Lord, thank you.' Your nerves get jittery. You're ready to run and you don't know where you're running to," she said, adding that she and her daughters are in therapy. She misses the photographs she used to keep of the day care's children, of kids on play swings and on field trips and bicycles — and down at the baylands, where they waved at the planes, she said.

Residents thought they'd have had a celebration by now, a party to rejoice their healing and a memorial for the three men, Irene Silva, Jones' immediate neighbor to the south, said.

But that won't happen until Jones is back in her home, Silva and Starnes said.

"This is my memorial," Silva said, gesturing toward Jones' burned home, located just 20 feet away.

"It's February already, the month of the big accident. That our neighbor is still not back in her home and the kids are gone, that's the part that really hurts," she said.

Silva was opening her driveway gate when she saw the plane fly over her house and explode in flames into Jones' home.

"Every time there's a rumble of a plane you just look up to make sure it isn't coming down," she said.

"I say, 'Lord, don't let me be a witness of anything that drastic anymore.'"

Starnes remains hopeful that the celebration residents long for will happen.

"There's a great reggae band, and we wanted to invite the fire department and the police. Maybe we should do it — as a fundraiser for Lisa," she said.

WATCH IT ONLINE

A multimedia presentation will be posted on Palo Alto Online next week, in conjunction with the anniversary of the plane crash.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be e-mailed at sdremann@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by insurance?, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 10, 2011 at 11:05 pm

Why didn't the insurance companies help rebuild the day care center immediately instead of forcing them to wait for lawsuits? Very sad that this is dragging on for so long.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 10, 2011 at 11:23 pm

Interesting reading about the recovery (or not) happening in East Palo Alto. It is a shame that things are not moving more quickly and the residents affected are having to depend on charitable handouts rather than the financial aid they deserve. Like the San Bruno fire vicinity, this will take a long time to recover from in physical as well as emotional terms.

What the article does not mention is what Palo Alto has learned from this. Have we done anything to ensure that the whole city can be crippled by loss of power again? The CANS system did work, traffic was slow but moved and neighbors helped neighbors, but this real life emergency must have shown many flaws in the system and what has been changed as a result of this? Can we say we have learned anything useful from this? Have any improvements been made?

Perhaps a second article should be written with the answers to these questions?


Posted by Catherine Finn, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 13, 2011 at 7:41 am

Don't forget about the families of our loved ones who have died! We live this nightmare everyday too!


Posted by been there, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 13, 2011 at 10:54 pm

insurance?:

The reality of insurance is quite different than most people imagine, and they always adjust a few outliers well so that the vulnerable ones they don't cover can't get any traction with their complaints.

Insurance depends on wearing people down, and in the process they get people to make bad decisions. People's lost time and life is never factored in these things. Even if she gets covered for the economic loss on paper, justice delayed is justice denied -- there are a million expenses that never get factored into something like this. I'll be really surprised if she ends up remotely financially whole from this. And the money she does get will all come at a huge cost to her time and life.

It's very possible that her insurance policy requires insurance to kick in and they get paid through subrogation later, but she wasn't able to make them. What if, for example, her own insurance didn't fully cover her loss and she had to rely on the airplane owner's coverage? She has no right to sue a third party insurer in California, so she really has no leverage. Plus, there are policy limits, and she might have no legal help available because lawyers can see there is no extra money anywhere to pay them (with so many plaintiffs). I don't know any of that is the case here, but that's the typical kind of stuff that happens. People just have no idea. Insurance rarely works the way it is supposed to.


Posted by Member, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 14, 2011 at 11:31 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Bobby, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 14, 2011 at 12:25 pm

The article should've mentioned if the government agency investigating the crash has reached any conclusions yet. Also, do some aircraft turn left and go over the power lines when taking off? My understanding is that they are supposed to take off toward the north and then head out over the bay.


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 14, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Yes, it would be nice if info mentioned status of investigation report & covered the loved ones of the deceased. I am glad to read about the area affected - it has truly been very difficult for a good number of residents. The judgement of 1 had such disastrous affects on so many.


Posted by Barbara, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 14, 2011 at 12:57 pm

@Member: This is a pretty touchy-feely article, but post traumatic stress is real and I don't doubt that those people are suffering.

Like some of the other commenters, I'd like to see more info on the people who actually died. Jones lost her house. The people in the airplane lost everything they had.


Posted by Chris, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 14, 2011 at 12:59 pm

The final NTSB report isn't out yet. Airplanes are supposed to turn right after takeoff. They're also not supposed to crash. Clearly something went wrong that caused the pilot to turn left and to be way too low.


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 14, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Part of the importance of profiling the people in the area affected is because it's the rich vs. the not so rich. Generally, people who own planes have a lot more money than the people who reside in EPA, yet it's the folks w/less and who had no part in the plane crash who were also deeply affected. So there is a class/money element at work. Still, I get the sense given the Finn family members' comments that not much effort was made to interview the families of the deceased & one of those families resides in EPA. I still wonder if the pilot wanted to fly over the Finn's house & that's why they headed in that direction.

Yes, the PTSD being experienced is real.

It would serve Member well to retire their biased attitude towards this subject.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Feb 14, 2011 at 1:17 pm

Hmmm asks:"I still wonder if the pilot wanted to fly over the Finn's house & that's why they headed in that direction."

Given the visibility at the time of the crash any home on the ground would not have been visible during the aircraft's departure from the airport - even if they were intentionally overhead, which I doubt. No pilot that I know would intentionally deviate from a straight out climbing departure under the conditions that prevailed.


Posted by Reader, a resident of Community Center
on Feb 14, 2011 at 1:24 pm

@Hmmm and others. There's an article linked at the bottom of the article that covers the info you're asking about: "What's happened since the accident."


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 14, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Thanks, Reader, I read that already & didn't ind it adequate coverage re the families of the deceased.

Thanks, also, Peter. Can't imagine anyone intentionally wanting to do a fly over in those conditions, myself. Hard to know what happened before they hit the tower.


Posted by Mr. Ironic, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 14, 2011 at 1:53 pm

RIP : Brian he was a good dude

Sad that alot of people are still suffering due to an plane crash they had no control over.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 14, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Wow, I think all people who suffered from this and lost their homes, property and family members should be due equal sympathy not just those who were poor.

Regardless of circumstances, people suffered. If there was a crash into a wealthier neighborhood sometime, do you think they would deserve less sympathy because of their wealth?


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 14, 2011 at 3:31 pm

No, not less sympathy at all. But the poorer one is the harder hit (barring loss of life) because then they are then more dependent on community help, as well as any insurance or lawsuits. The financial situation for the residents is important in this situation. The other aspect is that those who got on the plane had a choice to do so; the residents didn't have a choice as to what happened in their area. This is of course true in other disasters, be they natural or man made. And guess what? It didn't happen elsewhere; it happened in a financially struggling community. So there's the horrendous loss of life PLUS a very detrimental effect on a community. Were you affected by this plane crash? I was and I don't live near the crash site at all.

I wish the best to the loved ones of the deceased so that their legal wrangling isn't continually heartbreaking. I wish the same for the residents affected.


Posted by John Galt, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 14, 2011 at 4:36 pm

One overlooked scenario which results in a plane deviating from the normal flight pattern in this manner would be if a rudder gust lock was not removed prior to flight. This renders the plane uncontrollable and engine torque causes a left turning, descending flight path to the left after leaving the ground. It has happened before and will happen again. Check the final NTSB report.


Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 15, 2011 at 11:28 pm

I'll bet if the plane crashed into facebook the airport would be history already. The typical ignore it and keep quiet and look clueless until people just forget is going strong.

About the rudder gust locks ... Would that not have been apparent by now or much earlier? I go out there all ther time, but I'm wondering how long the plane was in the air, that is, if something was apparently wrong right away, or if it occurred as the approached the residential area. I think I remember hearing there was nothing on the radio about any problem, seeming to say that if something failed or was inoperable at the last instant there would have been no time to react, but if something was pulling them left would they not have had time to react.

Why were they going over the city right in the area where one of them lived. I keep thinking they were doing a flyover? And this is the "arrogance" or just bad judgement that I estimate. Taking off in bad whether because of over-confidence, much like the guy who crashed his car on university going so fast. This is something that cannot be managed or avoided, and for this reason I favor closing the airport.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Feb 16, 2011 at 7:28 am

anon asks:"if something was pulling them left would they not have had time to react."

The plane was a twin engine plane and failure of the left engine immediately after takeoff would have produced a very strong turn to the left because of the asymmetrical power from the right engine and the drag from the left propeller. If this occurs when the plane is more than 500 feet or so in the air then a well trained pilot can input controls and feather the dead engine to counteract the turning forces. If it occurred at ver low altitudes it would be more difficult to react in time.

The NTSB report will answer the question regarding a possible left engine failure.


Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 16, 2011 at 11:10 am

Except that witnesses said the plane was flying level. You said the same thing a year ago PC. If the pilot knew the plane was failing I have to think he would have avoided crashing into the power lines and tried to crash into the softer bay mud before he was over the residential areas. Have you looked at the map of where this happened, it was basically right inside the residential area ... and very close to one of the homes of the passengers, no?

As I recall you also tired, rightly I thought, to get the airport to disallow left turns so planes would not be allowed to fly over EPA at all, and they refused you. That shows me arrogance and stubborness, and that the management of this airport is not up to making the decisions that should be their first and most important concerns.


Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 16, 2011 at 11:15 am

PC ... also I think, but I do not know and am not an expert in aviation, but the twin-engine planes are designed to fly with one engine. Sure, if one engine is off it will experience uneven acceleration and pull to the side where the engine fails, but I have to think it could not be as sharp as you imply.

For example, if the pilot though he was flying straight,and the plane was configured with flap and ailerons (???not sure of the technical words) to be going straight, if an engine failure on the left side would have sent it into that sharp of a turn ... ie, I think less than 1/4 mile in radius - because reason tells me that plane would be practically unflyable if that was the case, and I think the whole reason to have two engines is to be able to fly comfortably to safety in case of a failure.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Feb 23, 2011 at 11:28 am

Careful analysis of tragic events takes time. If you want to see professionalism at its best go to this web site for a frank self criticism of an outstanding emergency response:

Web Link

and click on:

Update: Aviation Crash on Beech Street After Action Report 2/17/10

We are privileged to have this caliber of professionals responding to our local emergencies and disasters.


Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 23, 2011 at 4:04 pm

PC, I read this report now, and fully 100% of the report is about what the emergency responders did, not why or what caused the crash.

Here is a quote from the report that I think sort of sums up the attitude:

CONCLUSION
Each day as aircraft fly in and out of Palo Alto Airport, residents in the City of East Palo Alto have are faced with a new realization and threat. While a number of other aircraft incidents have occurred in the tidal areas along the San Francisco Bay adjacent to the City, the Beech Street Aircraft Crash impacted a densely populated residential neighborhood prompting the response of an overwhelming number of emergency responders from a variety of agencies. The lessons learned from this report have already produced changes in response and preventive efforts among the East Palo Alto Police Department and the Menlo Park Fire Protection District, more importantly; the incident has brought together a community that has offered its own mutual aid to its neighbors.

THE INCIDENT IS LABELED "THE MIRACLE AT BEECH ST." three paragraphs past the one quoted above.

It's mass delusion to objectively and plainly realize that what happened on Beech St. could be called "incredible luck" if the miracle label doesn't work for you and then proceed like that luck is a given.

No matter how fast and complete the reaction to this kind of event is there is a certainty that over time it will be repeated at some point, and no assurance that that repetition would be a long way off or that its effect would not be even more unlucky as this incident was lucky.

I don't like the "hobbyist" word that was used before in some post or other. There are distractingly foolish arguments some on either side of this issue. Though I deny the equivalence of the Highway 101 v. airport risk comparison analogy, I believe that there is a continuing and increasing risk that higher and higher performance machines lead non-professionals to exercise bad judgement relatively frequently that increases that risk due to the pilot error or mechanical failure alone. My example of this would be the young man who was traveling way too fast in Middlefield and crashed his car ... and that has happened twice in the last few years ... also kind of miraculous that no one else was hurt. I think it's usually at night. Just an explanation of my reasoning to disagree with your use of the word "fortunately" in another article:

> The airport will, fortunately, continue in operation using,

You said yourself the airport refused to accept your suggestions about take-offs and landings. Did they give an explanation of that refusal by the way?

I cannot help but mention that this looks like institutionalized denial, or something has just calculated that if a crash happens into East Palo Alto again it is acceptable collateral damage for the relatively minor value the airport gives to that vast majority of those in the area.

The airport is a danger and that danger is known and understood and clearly explainable to the public, yet in order that the public not be informed to participate in this decision, discussion has not been public and tranparent. My opinion anyway, but solid facts might change that if there were any.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Feb 23, 2011 at 11:38 pm

Anon - The title of this thread is East Palo Alto plane crash: one year later. I posted this report as "a frank self criticism of an outstanding emergency response" but somehow you missed that point and simply used this as an occasion to beat your own drum rather than to read, understand and appreciate the analysis of the emergency response to the crash.


Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 24, 2011 at 12:17 am

> used this as an occasion to beat your own drum

This is not true at all. I gain nothing personally if the airport was to be closed down but a feeling that the right decision would have been made. Your interpretation of the meaning of the thread is fine for you.

The responders did a good job, no doubt, and will be hopefully will be able to respond even better next time ... next time ... and the next time.

I read the report, but I did not notice that there was any comment or evaluation of the risk from the airport, which seems like it might be important and proper.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Feb 24, 2011 at 1:39 am

You can either curse the darkness or light a candle.

I, for one, choose to thank the emergency responders who not only responded to this disaster but who also took the incredible effort to light a candle by frankly critiquing their response. We are privileged to be served by such professionals.


Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 24, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Peter Carpenter, I can appreciate you do not like my conclusions about the airport, nor my willingness to write about it in plain words. I can appreciate you want to be positive, but here I quote you from another comment on another board which I agree with:

> The Palo Alto Airport community is throwing the dice in continuing to operate in the 'business as usual' mode.

I'm glad you want to light candles while you think I am cursing the darkness, but in reality I think you are lighting the wrong candle.

Our emergency responder's professionalism in objectively investigating their response and working to try to improve it in the future is admirable, and part of their job, which they are doing ... well.

Is it really cursing the darkness to state that I do not see the same professionalism or concern from the airport community or those who should override them when it is clear they cannot make a difficult decision that might be bad for them? I don't think so.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Feb 24, 2011 at 11:42 pm

Anon asks:"Is it really cursing the darkness to state that I do not see the same professionalism or concern from the airport community or those who should override them when it is clear they cannot make a difficult decision that might be bad for them?"

Yes, if all you have done is to post your thoughts on this little read forum.

The emergency responders' After Action Report which I referred to above was comprehensive and has been widely distributed. I have seen nothing comparable from you and others who have other concerns. I have also communicated my suggestions regarding changes in the airport operation widely including to those directly involved in those operations. Yet, a year later, I have yet to see anyone make a case for other more drastic changes to airport operations and do anything with those comments except post them here - in the darkness.


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