Five people on board a small airplane, including the pilot, died on Sunday when the aircraft mysteriously slammed into the parking lot of a California Staples, PEOPLE confirms.
The pilot, 53-year-old Scott Shepherd, sent a distress signal — declaring an emergency — to John Wayne Airport in Orange County before the twin-engine Cessna fell nose-first into the lot around 12:30 p.m. local time, Cpt. Tony Bommarito with the Orange County Fire Authority, tells PEOPLE. First responders found all four passengers and the pilot dead in the plane.
“The plane looks like it came almost straight down into the ground. One car was destroyed. But the owner of that car was in the store shopping at the time,” Bommarito says. “Overall, it could’ve been worse. It wasn’t much devastation [on the ground] other than the actual plane crash.”
Along with Shepherd, the victims have been identified as: Nasim Ghanadan, 29; Lara Shepherd, 42; Floria Hakimi, 62 and 32-year-old Navid Hakimi. Lara, Floria and Ghanadan worked as real estate agents at Pacific Union in San Francisco, according to the agency’s website. Floria was Navid’s mother, according to KCBS. Authorities would not confirm to PEOPLE if Lara and Scott Shepherd were related.
Witnesses told the Los Angeles Times that there was no explosion when the plane hit the ground suddenly.
“We looked up to see the plane falling nose first,” Ella Pham, 20, said to the outlet. “We really didn’t think it was a plane at first due to no crashing noise, but as soon as we saw people running from across the street we went to go check it out … It was so heartbreaking just seeing the plane crumbled into pieces.”
Video shared on social media showed the plane dropping quickly to the ground, and photos from the scene showed the remains of the aircraft crumpled in the parking lot.
“A lot of people tried to help until they saw that it was hard to get inside the aircraft but by the time people stepped away, firefighters and police were there,” Pham told the Times.
The cause of the crash is unknown and the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the incident.
The plane was owned by Category III Aviation Corp., a San Francisco-based real estate consulting firm, according to KCBS. It was reportedly flying from Concord.
Pacific Union officials remembered Lara, Ghanadan and Floria in a statement, according to KCBS.
“We are shocked and deeply saddened by the news of this tragedy,” the statement reportedly read. “Our entire Pacific Union family is mourning the loss of our colleagues, family and friends. We have suffered a tragic loss in Danville.”
Family and friends remembered Ghanadan in a series of Facebook tributes in the wake of her death.
“Nasim, Baby. You are a beautiful vivacious woman,” on person wrote on Ghanadan’s page. “I sensed your energy back in SJSU 07′ at entrepreneurial society. Sad to hear about your accident but your legacy will live on. My prayers to the family and friends.”