Tragedy struck Tesla Motors, the high-profile electric-car maker based in Palo Alto, Calif., on Wednesday morning, as the company is poised to raise $100 million in a public offering of stock.
Three people who died in a small plane crash on the Peninsula were Tesla employees, according to a source who knew one of the men on the plane. The Cessna 310, which was registered under the name of one of the three men, was on its way from Palo Alto to Hawthorne Airport south of Los Angeles.
The Associated Press reported the plane is registered to Air Unique Inc. of Santa Clara, and California secretary of state records show that Doug Bourn owns the company.
Tesla spokesman Ricardo Reyes said Bourn is a senior electrical engineer for the electric car manufacturer. But Reyes could not immediately confirm if Bourn was on board.
The company issued this statement:
Three Tesla employees were on board a plane that crashed in East Palo Alto early this morning. We are withholding their identities as we work with the relevant authorities to notify the families. Our thoughts and prayers are with them. Tesla is a small, tightly-knit company, and this is a tragic day for us."
Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors, also runs SpaceX, based in Hawthorne. According to Tesla's IPO filing, Tesla rents space for a design studio from SpaceX. A source familiar with Tesla's operations said that was the likely reason for the trip, as Tesla employees routinely travel between the company's headquarters and the Hawthorne office.
Musk usually flies commercial planes between the Bay Area and Southern California, where he and his family live. He has, however, been criticized for flying his own private plane while seeking federal loans from Tesla Motors.
The workers in the plane that crashed were not executives, as was widely reported, but two engineers and a manager. As such, the tragedy does not appear to pose a threat to Tesla's plans to introduce the Model S, a $60,000 all-electric luxury sedan, or its IPO.
The plane clipped a power line and crashed into two homes on its way down. The homes caught fire, but no one on the ground was hurt.
The fuselage of the plane also landed on several cars in the East Palo Alto neighborhood catching them on fire.
A friend of Doug Bourn, Lisa Pavey, sent NBC Bay Area a statement of remembrance:
I first met Doug when I joined Tesla Motors back in 2005 - he was the guy that got me up to speed. He had the patience of a saint.
Although his focus at Tesla Motors was power power electronics, his interests stretched well beyond that boundary. He went out to schools and local organizations to spread the word about the Tesla Roadster, giving great presentations and generating interest from school children to hardened Bay Area techies. He volunteered with a group building robots as part of a high school program - remember the patience I mentioned? He was a great teacher. In fact, he taught ground flight school to his colleagues at Tesla Motors during the evenings and at lunch time.
When we had a visitor from the UK, Doug suggested dinner in Napa. I thought that was a bit of a drive, but he just smiled and mentioned his plane. He took three of us up to Napa that evening for a memorable trip. He did full pre-flight checks and concentrated while flying. No small talk! He was a great pilot.
Menlo Park Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said "Either by luck or the skill of the pilot, the plane hit the street and not the homes on either side," he added. "That saved people in this community."
That was Doug. A careful, kind and wonderful man. He was my colleague and my friend and he will be missed.