Three Killed in California Mid-Air Collision

A Cessna twin overtakes a Cessna 152 at Watsonville Airport.

A Cessna 340A crashed into a hangar next to a runway at Watsonville Municipal Airport August 18, after a mid-air collision with a 152, according to authorities. [Courtesy: City of Watsonville]

Three people have been killed in a mid-air collision of two Cessna aircraft in Santa Cruz County, California, according to authorities. 

The accident happened Thursday just before 3 p.m. at Watsonville Municipal Airport (KWVI). The first notification came from a Twitter post from the City of Watsonville.

The airport is a non-towered facility with intersecting runways, 9/27 and 2/20. According to city officials, the aircraft involved were a Cessna 152 and a twin-engine Cessna 340A. Both were attempting to land on Runway 20 at the time.

There was one person onboard the 152, and two people onboard the 340. All three died in the accident.

Wreckage from the smaller aircraft landed in a field outside the airport. Video of the scene shows the front end of the aircraft smashed. The 340 crashed into a hangar next to the runway.

“We are absolutely saddened to hear about the tragic incident that took the lives of several people,” said a post on Watsonville’s Twitter account. “The City of Watsonville sends its deepest condolences to the friends and family of those who passed.”

No one on the ground was injured.

ATC Recordings

The 340, tail number N740WJ, was registered to ALM Holding LLC, according to the FAA. The ADS-B data app Flightaware shows the aircraft departed from Turlock Municipal Airport (O15) approximately 74 nm away at 2:32 p.m. and headed straight for KWVI. The aircraft was in the air for approximately 23 minutes.

The 152, N49931, was registered to Monterey Bay Aviation, according to Flightaware, the 152 was in the pattern for Runway 20.

LiveATC captured the transmissions of the aircraft in the pattern at the non-towered airport. 

There were several aircraft in the vicinity of the airport and in the pattern when at 22:07 on the recording, the pilot of the twin announced their intention to do a straight-in approach to Runway 20 at Watsonville. The pilot repeated this transmission at 22:17.

At 24:12 in the recording: The pilot of the 340 reported a 3-mile final for Runway 20. The next transmission is from the 152 pilot who reported turning left base.

The 340 pilot stated: "Looking for traffic on left base."

The 152 pilot responded: "Yeah, I see you, you're behind me."

The last transmission from the 152 pilot is: "I'm going to go around, you're coming at me pretty quick."

Approach Speed

The next transmission is someone warning the other pilots about the aircraft accident at Watsonville.

ADS-B data shows the 340 in the airport traffic pattern at a speed of 182 knots. The normal approach speed for a 340 in the landing configuration is approximately 117 knots.

In an interview with a local photojournalist, a passing motorist said he saw the 340 approaching the airport and was surprised by how fast it was traveling. He did not see the other airplane until impact, saying the 340 hit the 152 “like a missile,” and the 152 “went end-over-end losing its wing” and the sky filled with debris.

He then described an explosion, fire, and smoke rising from the hangar where the 340 crashed.

The wing of the 152 was recovered from a city street outside the airport and away from the main wreckage.

A witness on the ground told the Santa Cruz Sentinel that the aircraft were about 200 feet in the air when they collided.

The NTSB and FAA are investigating the crash.

Both aircraft were attempting to land on Runway 20 at Watsonville Municipal Airport (KWVI). [Courtesy: FAA]

About the Airport

KWVI has two runways, Runway 2/20 measuring 4,501 feet by 149 feet and Runway 9/27, measuring 3,998 feet by 98 feet. 

The airport was built in 1931 and expanded during World War II when it became an Auxiliary Navy base. It was used by airships for coastal patrol until 1945, and became a training base for fighters. 

After the war, the airport was turned into a civilian field and eventually became the home of a popular vintage aircraft airshow.

Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Get the latest FLYING stories delivered directly to your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter