PHILADELPHIA — A small plane crashed Thursday morning into the backyards of homes in Upper Moreland Township, Montgomery County, killing all three people on board — two Philadelphia-area doctors and their 19-year-old daughter.
The crash occurred about 6:15 a.m. near Morris Road and Minnie Lane, creating what officials called a large debris field.
Police Chief S. Michael Murphy said everyone on the plane was killed in the crash, but no one on the ground was harmed. At a late-afternoon news briefing, officials identified the victims as Jasvir Khurana; his wife, Divya; and a daughter, Kiran.
The family’s other daughter is in her 20s and was not aboard the plane during the crash, police said.
Murphy had previously said the male occupant of the plane had a pilot license but it was not known if he had been at the controls.
Noting that the plane came down in the rear yards of a residential neighborhood, Murphy said, “It’s a miracle” no one on the ground was hurt. He said the plane crashed into a yard, hitting trees and a shed, but not harming anyone in nearby homes.
Murphy said later there was no indication that the plane made a distress call.
The single-engine plane was flying “on a family trip” from Northeast Philadelphia Airport to St. Louis, with a stop at Ohio State University, officials said Thursday afternoon.
But the 44-year-old Beech aircraft was only in the air for about three minutes before it crashed in the Montgomery County neighborhood, said Adam Gerhardt, an air traffic investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board.
The agency is still in a “very early stage” of investigating the crash, Gerhardt said, and expects to release a preliminary report in 10 to 15 days, and a final report in 12 to 18 months.
The crashed aircraft is registered to Jasvir Khurana, of Penn Valley.
Jasvir Khurana was a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at Temple’s Katz School of Medicine, where he studied bone disease, including cancer and inflammation of bones in the foot because of diabetes.
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. She researched the role of cellular structures called mitochondria in conditions such as epilepsy and autism, and she also had specialized expertise in sleep medicine.
Their younger daughter, Kiran, graduated last year from Harriton High, where she was on a nationally ranked squash team.
The Khuranas made their home on a quiet, tree-lined street in Lower Merion Township, 24 miles from the crash site.
They lived there with Jasvir’s parents, whom they often took long walks with, either alone or with Rusty, their energetic beagle-mix, according to neighbors.
Investigators visited the Khuranas’ home on Greentree Lane early Thursday afternoon to break the news to the elderly couple. Their immediate neighbors declined to comment, asking for privacy.
“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.”
Stander said that he would often talk with Jasvir — known better as “Jesse” to his friends — and Divya about their older daughter, who was close to Stander in age. The pathologist never mentioned to Stander that he had a budding interest in flying. In fact, the call from his neighbors about the crash was the first he’d heard of Khurana’s hobby.
Records show that Jasvir Khurana got his flight license — a private pilot certificate — in 2014, and the plane was registered with the FAA in 2016. In that same year, a handful of questions by a user of the same name were posted on the website of the American Bonanza Society, which calls itself “the world’s largest community of Beechcraft owners and enthusiasts.”
There, he sought advice from fliers who have embarked to Iceland, and mentioned a planned trip to the Caribbean.
“We will need life rafts for the flight over the water — anyone know where we can rent or buy them?” the user wrote on Jan. 12, 2016. “We can stop en route Florida if needed (starting in Philadelphia and then flying to Key West).”
Other posts posed technical inquiries, noting “green sticky stuff under the wing and fuselage” and an alternator light that came on intermittently.
According to weather data, it was mostly cloudy shortly after 6 a.m. Thursday, around the time Khurana took off from Northeast Philadelphia airport.
Khurana was certified to fly in bad weather, but an audio recording between him and an air-traffic controller around that time indicates he was confused. The air-traffic controller slowly and clearly read out the route, the transponder code, and the radio frequency so he could get in touch with the next controller on his route.
He read back that information to the first controller incorrectly, then appeared to mistakenly call her again instead of contacting the next one.
Teams from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board, the lead agency in the investigation, were at the scene investigating Thursday.
Murphy anticipated that investigators would be stationed in the neighborhood for “several days.” He said local police officers were going door-to-door Thursday to see if any private surveillance systems had recorded footage of the crash.
Shirley Crane, 81, said she thought she heard an earthquake as she was getting dressed shortly after 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 on their block.
From her deck, Shirley Crane said, she saw the small, “mangled” plane that had crashed “yards” from her house, one of four affected by the incident.
“It was like a skip hop and a jump, we’ll put it that way,” she said.
Shirley Crane said she was grateful that she was unharmed.
“I thought to myself, it just wasn’t our day, our time, to go,” she said.
John Quatrini said 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’s lived in on Thistlewood Road 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.”
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Other residents on Minnie Lane expressed disbelief that the noise they heard early Thursday morning was a plane crashing.
One man who lives across the street from where the plane crashed said the sound was closer to that of a car backfiring or an electrical transformer “sizzling.”
The plane left a trail of broken parts and battered trees in its wake, starting from the corner of Minnie Lane and Thistlewood Road and stretching several hundred yards. It came to rest in a wooded area behind the homes, clipping and damaging the roof of a nearby shed.
According to activity logs on FlightAware, the aircraft took off from the Northeast Philadelphia airport 10 times in the last three months, including Thursday morning.
The aircraft model, a Beech F33A, has been involved seven fatal accidents in the last 10 years in the United States, according to NTSB records.
(Staff writers Tom Avril, Nathaniel Lash, Oona Goodin-Smith and Mariah Rush contributed to this story.)
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