A floatplane crashed into a West Anchorage neighborhood Sunday afternoon, tearing a gaping hole in a house before coming to rest crumpled in the middle of a residential street.
No one was injured in the crash: The pilot was able to get out of the wreckage of the Cessna 180 on his own before medics arrived, and the damaged house was empty at the time, officials said.
"That's the most important thing," said Anchorage Fire Department Captain Tom Wescott at the scene Sunday afternoon. "The pilot wasn't hurt and no one was in the structure."
The single-engine Cessna took off from Lake Hood around noon on Sunday before quickly running into trouble, said Clint Johnson of the National Transportation Safety Board. The pilot "lost the engine shortly after takeoff," which led to a "forced landing."
The plane crashed into a townhouse at the corner of Orion Circle and Cosmic Circle before coming to rest in the street a block away from Balto Seppala Park, busy on a sunny summer afternoon.
The neighborhood off Milky Way Drive and Wisconsin Street is directly to the north of Lake Hood — which bills itself as the world's busiest seaplane base — and is in the flight path of the many small planes that fly in and out of the lake each day.
"That's a very heavily traveled area, as far as takeoff and landing routes," said Johnson of the NTSB.
People who live there are used to hearing planes low overhead, said Lance Parcell, who lives a few houses down from the damaged townhouse. On Sunday just after noon he was on his porch when he heard "an engine sound I'd never heard before."
"Then it went quiet. And about 10 seconds later I heard a really loud crash. I ran out from the backyard to the front and saw the house across the street had a gaping hole in it."
He was dialing 911 as he ran, he said. No pilot was in the plane.
Others in the area heard a similar pattern: a strange engine noise followed by a brief, eerie silence and a crash.
Michael O'Shea, who lives in the neighborhood near Lake Hood Elementary School, said he heard "high pitch, high RPMs" from the plane. "And he wasn't climbing. Then all of a sudden it was dead quiet."
At 12:20, the first 911 calls came in from people who had witnessed the crash, said Wescott of the Anchorage Fire Department. Firefighters took precautions in case the wreckage of the plane caught on fire, and inspected the damaged house.
"A good portion of the wall is missing on two floors, and there's debris out in the road," he said.
By about 12:45 p.m., dozens of people had gathered on the blocked-off street, some taking video on their phones.
David Breksy arrived to survey the damage to his in-laws' townhouse Sunday afternoon. He'd gotten a call from a neighbor "saying I'd better get over here, a plane hit my (in-laws) house."
With pink insulation hanging out of the torn-away walls of the house, Bresky was preparing for a big job ahead.
"Right now we're trying to clean it all up and get it boarded up," he said with a sigh.
"Fortunately, nobody was home and nobody got hurt."
The airplane is registered to Anchorage resident Jon Sutherlin, according to Federal Aviation Administration records. Sutherlin declined to comment when reached by phone Sunday.
The National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash.