JUNEAU, Alaska – A small plane crashed Monday near the picturesque downtown of Sitka, killing four people and destroying an unoccupied house, authorities said.
The owner of the home, Tess Heyburn, followed others running toward the crash. She had been sitting in a restaurant when the plane went down. "At first there wasn't much smoke. Then it erupted into smoke and flames," she said.
The single-engine Piper carried four people and took off from Victoria, British Columbia, officials said. The plane was owned by Hendrickson Aviation LLC, a Delaware corporation, according to the Federal Aviation Administration's registry. There were no survivors.
Lt. Barry Allen of the Sitka Police Department said debris under the plane was smoldering, hampering the investigation. The National Transportation Safety Board was to begin surveying the site Tuesday morning.
The incident stunned this tourist town in southeast Alaska. One witness said the crash site barely missed a busy street where tourists off a cruise ship were shopping and sightseeing.
"One block to the south and there would have been numerous casualties," said Jane Hoerner, of Bismarck, N.D. "It was quite a populated area with tourists just walking around enjoying the day."
The small plane hit a house situated in some woods just outside of downtown Sitka. "It was one of the loudest pops I've ever heard," Hoerner said.
When the plane went down, other houses on Heyburn's block were occupied.
"A lot of my neighbors have kids and they're home all the time," she said. "I would've been at home, too, but my friend called me to meet him for a milkshake."
Last month, five people died in a small plane crash near Ketchikan, also in southeast Alaska. The pilot and four sightseers were killed in the mountains of Misty Fiords National Monument.
Sitka, with a population of nearly 9,000, is located about 90 miles south of Juneau. Heyburn said several people have already reached out to help her as she recovers from the loss of her home, which was so damaged it will have to be demolished.
"I really can't bear to look at it right now," she said.
For now, she's thankful she wasn't there. "Right now I'm pretty much looking at it like a miracle," the 49-year-old massage therapist said.