Bommarito explained the plane was on its way to nearby John Wayne Airport, and it is possible the pilot intentionally avoided people on the ground during the plane's collision to limit the number of casualties. The victims, in addition to pilot Scott Shepard, 53, were identified as Lara Shepard, 42, the wife of the pilot; real estate agent Nasim Ghanadan, 29; and another married couple, Floria Hakimi, 62, and Navid Hakimi, 32.
There was no fire and nobody on the ground was hurt, he said.
The FAA tweeted that a Cessna 414 declared an emergency landing and crashed in a mall parking lot near the John Wayne Orange County Airport.
Fire authorities were called at 12:28 local time (19:28 GMT) after the small plane hit a parked red auto, while its owner was in a shop. All five victims were passengers on the airplane.
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Dashboard from a vehicle in the area shows the plane as it nose-dived to the ground.
The plane was registered to a San Francisco Real Estate Company.
Ella Pham and her boyfriend were walking across the lot Sunday when they saw the twin-engine Cessna plummet.
The plane went down around 12:30 p.m.in the 3900 block of Bristol Street in Santa Ana, the OCFA said, adding that the Costa Mesa Fire Department was also responding to the scene. The agency will investigate and the National Transportation Safety Board will determine the cause of the accident, the FAA said in a tweet.