Emergency personnel responded Wednesday to a small plane that crashed at Ralph Dunlap School in Orcutt, killing the pilot.
The incident was reported at about 10:45 a.m. at the school at 1220 Oak Knoll Road.
The pilot, the sole occupant of the plane, died in the crash, according to Santa Barbara County fire Capt. Daniel Bertucelli.
“We initially started a single-alarm response, which was upgraded to a second-alarm response,” he told Noozhawk. “We did have smoke showing from the station.”
The plane was a Cirrus SR20 single-engine aircraft registered in Newport Beach that had departed Van Nuys Airport at about 9:45 a.m. en route to the Santa Maria Public Airport, according to the FlightRadar24 website.
The aircraft, which came to rest upside down on the school’s basketball courts, was on approach to the airport at the time of the crash, according to emergency radio traffic.
It caught fire after the crash, putting up a large column of black smoke, but the flames were quickly doused once firefighters arrived.
“There was a significant header of smoke coming from this area,” Bertucelli said. “The first responding engine company was reporting heavy smoke from a significant distance away.”
Emergency dispatchers received multiple 9-1-1 calls about the incident, which created a large explosion heard by numerous Orcutt residents.
The exterior of a metal storage container had minor damage from the fire, but the school was not damaged, Bertucelli said.
No one on the ground was injured in the incident.
The pilot appears to have deployed an aircraft parachute system prior to hitting the ground.
“There is a parachute that is coming out of the back end of the aircraft right now, so there was a parachute associated with this aircraft,” Bertucelli said, adding he was unable to say if it was linked to the pilot or a safety feature of the plane.
“We don’t know any of that right now,” he said. “It is currently under investigation.”
Due to shelter-at-home orders, students were not on campus, but a handful of staff members were at the school at the time of the crash, according to Orcutt Union School District Superintendent Deborah Blow.
“I’m very grateful that none of my staff were injured during this,” she said. “I guess this is a small silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, because we would have had children on campus when that occurred.”
Blow expressed condolences to the pilot’s family and friends.
She said the metal container belonged to the school’s Parent-Teacher-Association, and held assorted supplies, including those used for fundraisers.
“We just are so thankful that schools weren’t in session even though we haven’t been happy that schools weren’t in session,” Blow added.
Anyone with information about the crash is asked to contact the Sheriff’s Department at 805.681.4100.
Coincidentally, the crash occurred as Santa Maria firefighters, along with counterparts from other agencies, have gathered this week at the Santa Maria Public Airport for training related to extinguishing fires sparked by crashed planes.
Check back with Noozhawk for updates to this story.