Air-traffic control repeatedly told the pilot of a plane that plowed into a San Diego neighborhood to climb moments before the crash

San Diego County medical examiner officials remove a gurney carrying remains from the site of the Santee plane crash
Officials from the San Diego County medical examiners office remove a gurney carrying remains from the site of a plane crash Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021, in Santee, Calif. Gregory Bull/AP
  • Air-traffic control repeatedly told the plane pilot who crashed into a San Diego suburb to climb.
  • The air-traffic controller warned he was still losing altitude and told him, “I need you to fly.”
  • A flight instructor said he believed the pilot, Dr. Sugata Das, was “was totally disoriented.”

The pilot of a small plane that crashed in a San Diego suburb was repeatedly told by an air-traffic controller to “climb immediately,” moments before the aircraft plowed into a Southern California neighborhood on Tuesday.

At least two people were killed and two injured after the Cessna 340A plane crashed shortly afer 12 p.m. local time in the city of Santee, California, roughly 20 miles (32km) northeast of San Diego.

The plane struck two homes and a UPS delivery truck – the driver of which was killed – and multiple homes and vehicles near the site of the crash were engulfed in flames. Dr. Sugata Das, a cardiologist who owned and operated the plane, was also killed in the crash, the Arizona Republic reported.

According to a recording posted by LiveATC, a website which tracks and monitors flight communications, an air-traffic controller asked if he was aware the aircraft was drifting off-course.

“It looks like you’re drifting right of course, are you correcting?” the controller can be heard saying on the recording, to which Das responded, “Correcting.”

The air-traffic controller warned Das he was still losing altitude and told him, “I need you to fly.”

“Ok. It looks like you’re descending sir,” the controller said. “I need to make sure you are climbing, not descending.”

“Low altitude alert, climb immediately, climb the airplane. Climb the airplane please,” the controller said. “Maintain 5,000. Expedite the climb. Climb the airplane please.”

Certified flight instructor Robert Katz told the local CBS affiliate, KFMB-TV he believed Das “was totally disoriented.”

“In my opinion, he is clearly disoriented at that point,” Katz said. “He does not know which way is up and he is just along for the ride. And so is anyone else on board that plane, unfortunately.”

Al Diehl, a former National Transportation Safety Board investigator, told the Associated Press that it appeared to him that Das seemed to be dealing with a distraction or issue onboard but did not communicate it to air-traffic control.

“The first thing you do when you’re in trouble is call, climb and confess – and he did not do any of the three,” Diehl said, adding that failing to do so violates the “very basic rules that flight instructors tell their students.”

Officials from the Federal Aviation Administration said they, along with the National Transportation Safety Board, will investigate the incident, which includes reviewing flight communications that occurred before the crash.

“The NTSB will be in charge of the investigation and will provide additional updates,” the FAA said in a statement Tuesday, citing a report by CNN. “Neither agency identifies people involved in aircraft accidents.”

The plane was headed to San Diego from Yuma, Arizona, officials said, but an issue on the plane prompted the pilot to attempt to land at Gillespie Field in El Cajon, California, less than five miles away from the crash site, officials said, according to a report by the San Diego NBC News affiliate, KNSD.