Ninety-one-year-old Dorothy Swinfard walks with a cane, but after hearing a plane crash into her son’s house across the street Monday, she was out the front door by the time her boy made it into his front yard.
Never mind the flames burning his Riverside home and the neighbors’ house.
“I kept saying, ‘It can’t be. It can’t be,’” Swinfard said Tuesday as she sat in her daughter’s kitchen next door to her own house. “Oh my gosh. You never heard anything like it in your life.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Dave Swinfard, 61, said he didn’t even know what had happened until he fled his smoky, burning home on Rhonda Road and went across the street to let his mother know he was OK.
He believes he lost his 12 cats, along with nearly everything he owns, after a Cessna 310 that had just taken off from nearby Riverside Municipal Airport plowed into his house and the house next door.
Three people in the plane were killed and two others were hospitalized in critical condition, authorities said.
The family who lived in the house next door, which was also destroyed, was in nearby Corona at the time, said Officer Ryan Railsback, a Riverside police spokesman.
“They were all together and are all accounted for,” Railsback said.
No information was available Tuesday about charitable funds set up for either family.
Swinfard, a Ramona High School grad, was lying on a couch in the back of his house doing a crossword puzzle and watching TV with a cat on his lap when he heard “the loudest boom” about 4:40 p.m. Monday.
“I can’t remember when I’ve been that scared that quick,” he said.
He saw the ceiling in an adjacent room collapse and saw flames and smoke come toward him. Thinking, “I got to get out of here or die,” Swinfard rushed to open the front door to let his cats escape, then saw flames outside and slammed the door shut.
He ran to the back door but struggled to open it, forgetting it was latched.
Once outside, he ran around the house calling for his cats, then back around the house’s other side, past growing flames that singed the hair on his head and on the arm he used to shield his face.
Then he bolted to the front yard and over to his waiting mother, knowing she’d be worried – especially after just losing another son in September.
“I feel bad about kitties. I couldn’t do anything for ’em,” he said Tuesday, standing outside his sister’s house.
He realized a plane had hit his home when he heard someone say, “That was the pilot,” as he passed through the yard.
On Tuesday, red signs posted by the Riverside Fire Department marked his house and the neighbors’ house as uninhabitable.
Swinfard, who works as an estimator for his brother-in-law’s construction company, fled his house in a Three Stooges T-shirt and a pair of shorts – which he still wore Tuesday.
He returned briefly to his charred house with a Riverside Fire Department battalion chief and retrieved his wallet, socks, underwear and his late father’s wedding ring.
“The first time I went out, I didn’t stop for nothing,” he said.
Swinfard, whose home was insured, has lost all his furniture, clothes, two TVs, a stereo system, up to 200 music records, a baseball card collection dating to the 1950s and a huge book collection, including most of Stephen King’s work.
He got a call Tuesday morning from a Moreno Valley friend now living in Indiana who saw news of the crash online. Swinfard said he answered the phone: “I’m still here.”
“‘Dude. Wow,'” was all his friend could say.
Swinfard stood in his sister’s front yard and looked across the street at what remained of the house where he’d lived 37 years.
The burned-out shell of his PT Cruiser was still parked in front, surrounded by a pile of debris that had been his attached garage. All that remained of the house’s front wall was the framing, with a big gap to the right. Blackened debris covered the home’s roof.
As Swinfard stood watching, a small crane lifted what appeared to be the Cessna’s wrecked fuselage from a gaping corner of his neighbor’s house.
Swinfard has spent 58 years of his life on Rhonda Road. He grew up in across the street from his current house in his mother’s home, where he’s now staying temporarily.
With his mother and sister both on the same street, Swinfard plans to build a new house where the destroyed one sits. He said he feels perfectly safe rebuilding there.
“I’m pretty sure the odds of that happening again are nil,” he said.
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