2 years ago, an airplane crashed in Riverside, killing 4; soon, we may know the cause

by in News

Two years to the day from when a twin-engine Cessna 310 plunged into a Riverside neighborhood, killing four of the five people on board, the National Transportation Safety Board indicated that investigators are close to announcing a likely cause.

The five people, all from San Jose, had flown down to watch daughters of two of the passengers participate in a weekend cheerleading event at Disney California Adventure.

Then about 4:40 p.m. on Feb. 27, 2017, the 43-year-old airplane that took off from Riverside Municipal Airport plummeted back to the ground, clipping one house on Rhonda Road a mile east of the airport and then crashing into the home next door, sending up a fireball. The crash and inferno destroyed two houses and damaged two others.

Stacey Pierce, 46; pilot Nouri Hijazi, 83; his wife, Dana Hijazi, 67; and Adine Farelas, 22, died. Silvia Farelas, 46, survived. No one on the ground was reported injured.

The NTSB factual report, a followup to the preliminary report, was released Nov. 27, 2018. A spokesman said Wednesday that the final report, expected to offer a cause of the crash, is usually published “within weeks” of the factual report.

Witness statements in the factual report suggest engine trouble and the pilot’s health as possible contributing factors.

The plane was boarded three times before departure, the first time after Hijazi had problems starting the left engine. Surviving passenger Silvia Farelas told the NTSB that Hijazi’s wife, Dana Hijazi, “became anxious and started to put pressure on the pilot to depart.” Farelas offered to rent a car, but Dana Hijazi “insisted they would return to (San Jose) in the airplane.”

After takeoff, the NTSB said Farelas “recalled that the airplane shook” during its climb, but she could hear the engines running continuously. Then, “the airplane entered a cloud and then began to vibrate violently as it started to descend.” The vibration was accompanied by a horn sound, which Farelas identified as the airplane’s stall warning alarm after hearing an example of one.

Pilot’s health in question

There were various accounts showing concern about the condition of Nouri Hijaz.

Larry Fistorela, identified as the pilot’s mechanic, told the NTSB that in December 2016 — about two months before the crash — he found Hijazi “laying in a prone position…with his head and shoulders underneath the pilot’s side instrument panel.” Fistorela said Hijazi had been in that position for about 90 minutes when he found him.

Nasser Michael Elsaleh, working at a flight school at the airport, heard the radio calls between Hijazi and the control tower and told the NTSB, “I felt like I heard a lot of red flags during his communications with the ground, such as unfamiliar with the departure procedure and confused with the taxi instructions.”

A Riverside County Coroner Office’s autopsy described an enlarged heart, with 70 percent narrowing of two coronary arteries and a 40 percent narrowing of a third artery.  A blood sample test found no drugs of abuse, alcohol, or carbon monoxide.