Two Philadelphia-area doctors and their daughter died early Thursday when their private plane crashed into a wooded suburb in Montgomery County.
Jasvir Khurana, 60; his wife, Divya, 54; and their 19-year-old daughter, Kiran, had set out on a family trip in the single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza when the plane went down, according to investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board. Investigators returned to the scene of the crash Friday.
Khurana, a licensed pilot, was at the controls of the aircraft, which was registered to him. Investigators said late Thursday that it was too early to determine what caused the crash.
The plane took off from Northeast Philadelphia Airport a little after 6 a.m., according to Adam Gerhardt, an air safety investigator for the NTSB. The 44-year-old aircraft was in the air for three minutes before rapidly losing altitude and crashing into a cluster of homes on Minnie Lane in Upper Moreland Township, about 10 miles from the airport.
The flight manifest indicated the Khuranas were headed to the airfield at Ohio State University and then on to St. Louis.
Gerhardt said the agency was still in a “very early stage” of investigating the crash, and expected to release a preliminary report in 10 to 15 days, and issue a final report within a year. Investigators said the pilot had not made a distress call during the short flight.
As the plane fell from the sky, it narrowly missed homes in a verdant suburban development, but no one on the ground was harmed.
"We’re very thankful there are no ground injuries,” Gerhardt said.
Jasvir Khurana was a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at Temple’s Katz School of Medicine.
His wife, Divya S. Khurana, was a pediatric neurologist at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children and a professor at Drexel University College of Medicine.
Their daughter Kiran graduated last year from Harriton High School, where she was on a nationally ranked squash team.
The couple’s other daughter, who is in her 20s, was not aboard the plane, authorities said.
As the aircraft descended, it cut through four properties on Minnie Lane, trailing broken components in its wake for a few hundred yards before coming to rest in a wooded area behind the homes. A small shed on one of the properties was clipped by the plane as it descended, causing minor damage.
Shirley Crane, 81, said she thought she heard an earthquake as she was getting dressed around 6 a.m. Her husband, Chris, thought the noise was thunder.
But what they found was something they had never seen in their 50 years of living along the 4200 block of Minnie Lane.
From her deck, Crane said, she saw the small, “mangled” plane that had crashed “yards” from her house. “It was like a skip, hop, and a jump -- we’ll put it that way,” she said.
Around the corner of Thistlewood Road, John Quatrini said he was jerked awake by a deafening sound.
“It sounded like the plane was coming right for my house,” he said. “I thought, ‘This is it, I’m done.’ ”
The roar of the engine passed over the house he has lived in for four decades. But the aircraft missed his home, landing about 400 yards away.
He didn’t realize the extent of the crash and its damage until hours later, when his daughter called from Florida to check in.
“It just shows you that this can happen anywhere,” he said. “We certainly didn’t expect it here.”
An audio recording of Khurana’s communication with an air-traffic controller around the time the plane took off shows that the controller slowly and clearly read out the route, the transponder code, and the radio frequency so Khurana could get in touch with the next controller on his route. Khurana repeated that information to the controller incorrectly, then appeared to mistakenly call her again instead of contacting the next one.
Records of the Beech F33A’s recent history show that it was last flown two weeks ago on a Saturday and a Sunday, taking off and landing at Northeast airport, the same field from which Khurana took off for his final flight Thursday. The pilot flew for about an hour each day, July 27 and 28, putting the plane through its paces, descending from 5,000 feet to 1,200 feet and climbing again, records show.
The Bonanza is among the most popular single-engine planes in the United States, according to Tom Turner, executive director of the air-safety arm of the American Bonanza Society, an organization for owners of the plane.
In its early years, 75 years ago, the plane was nicknamed “the doctor killer.” Turner said the nickname has long been shed, but reflected that some affluent initial buyers had trouble coping with its power, high for that time for a private plane.
The aircraft model, a Beech F33A, has been involved in seven fatal accidents in the last 10 years in the United States, according to NTSB records.
The Khuranas made their home on a quiet, tree-lined street in the Penn Valley section of Lower Merion Township. They lived there with Khurana’s parents, and often took long walks with them, neighbors said.
“They were just very nice, very neighborly people,” said Roy Stander, a neighbor a few houses down who was close with the family since their arrival on the street 20 years ago. “I’m nearly speechless. This is just a terrible tragedy.”