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Small Plane Crashes Near Pajaro Valley High School

Crash sparked quarter-acre fire that was quickly doused

A small plane crashed about 100 yards from Pajaro Valley High School on Sunday afternoon. PHOTO: Tony Nuñez

A small plane crashed Sunday afternoon in a field near Pajaro Valley High School, hitting the top of a power pole and coming to rest in a field about 50 yards from the school.

No serious injuries were reported. No buildings or facilities at the school were damaged.

The crash occurred just after 2pm.

According to Cal Fire Capt. Bryan Whitaker, two people aboard—a male pilot in his late 70s and male passenger in his 30s—suffered minor cuts and bruises and declined medical care from paramedics.

Whitaker says the pilot, who left from Watsonville Municipal Airport in a plane rented from the Santa Cruz Flying Club, reported a mechanical issue, after which the plane began puttering, forcing him to bring it down.

The crash sparked a small quarter-acre fire that was quickly doused. About 5,000 people on the northeast side of Watsonville and San Andreas Road lost power briefly from the downed lines.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash, and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials were also on site to inspect the destroyed plane, which has since been moved to a hangar at the airport just two and a half miles from the site of the crash.

The airport’s proximity to the school was for years a sticking point that delayed construction of the new athletic field, which was opened earlier this year. The Watsonville Pilots Association warned that planes experiencing trouble could be forced to land in the field, causing a safety issue if students were present.

No students or staff were on campus at the time of the crash. Just 24 hours earlier, however, the PVHS football team had hosted St. Francis High School in front of dozens of friends and family.

Pajaro Valley Unified School District Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez said in an emailed statement that a settlement between the district and WPA that allowed the construction of the field included increased flight pathway safety through the investment of $100,000 to reduce “vertical obstructions.”

“These obstructions are not located within PVUSD property, and the responsibility to remove lie with the city,” the statement read.

Watsonville Municipal Airport Manager Rayvon Williams said the city is in early discussions with the school district to remove some power poles around the flight path of the airport and move those utility lines underground. That reduction of “vertical obstructions” would be in addition to the city’s previous prevention efforts in which it used $60,000 to cut down various trees to meet FAA standards, Williams said.

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