Residents of a south Las Vegas neighborhood rushed to the scene of a fiery plane crash Monday morning with garden hoses and fire extinguishers.
"They brought whatever they could to get that fire out," said Courtney Downs, 16, who was in bed when she felt her house shake about 8:15 a.m.
The sounds that followed persuaded Downs to get out of bed and head outside, where she saw a man and a woman running from the wreckage.
"They both collapsed on my front lawn," the teenager said.
Downs said she saw about a dozen neighborhood men trying to douse the flames from the plane, which crashed at the intersection of Clover Field Court and Morning Mauve Avenue in the Silverado Ranch neighborhood. She said she then went back inside her house to get water for the victims and bedsheets for their wounds.
"It really showed how a community can be selfless," said Downs, a junior studying to be a dental assistant at Southwest Career and Technical Academy.
Authorities said the single-engine Piper Cherokee was carrying four people when it crashed two miles from Henderson Executive Airport. A Louisiana businessman was killed; his wife and another couple suffered life-threatening burns and other injuries.
Josh Cawthra, a National Transportation Safety Board investigator who arrived at the scene Monday afternoon, said the seven-seat private plane had just taken off from the Henderson airport and failed to gain much altitude before it crashed.
Cawthra said the plane hit a tree and a light pole before coming to rest on the residential street; no one on the ground was injured.
The burned hulk of the plane was hauled away for further examination about 6 p.m. The NTSB says it never speculates on the cause of a crash, and its investigations commonly take months to complete.
According to family members and media reports in southern Louisiana, the plane was being flown by its owner, accountant and businessman Douglas J. Touchet, 50, of Erath, La. Flying with him were his wife, Susan, and friends Randall and Tamika Savoy of St. Martinville , La.
Dwayne Latiolais, Tamika Savoy's cousin, said Douglas Touchet died in the crash.
Latiolais, who lives in St. Martinville, said Susan Touchet and Tamika Savoy worked together as hospital nurses. Randall Savoy was a fisherman, he said. He described the two couples as best friends.
University Medical Center spokeswoman Danita Cohen said a 29-year-old woman and a 30-year-old man from the crash were in serious condition at 8:30 p.m. Monday. A third victim, a 43-year-old woman, was in critical condition.
Latiolais said he talked to his cousin Monday night. He said she had burns on her legs, as well as broken ribs and stitches. She still had not been able to see Randall, who needed surgery for bleeding in his lungs and spleen.
Susan Touchet's injuries were extensive, Latiolais said. He said she had burns on her face and body, broken ribs and a broken back.
Latiolais said the Touchets recently lost a son, an Iraq war veteran, who was killed last year in a car wreck while stateside. They also have a daughter.
The Savoys have been married for five years and have two young children, Latiolais said.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration database, the Piper Cherokee, one of two planes Touchet owned, was manufactured in 1978 and was last certified as airworthy in December. The venerable Piper Cherokee was one of about 8,000 built in several variants since 1965.
Douglas Touchet was licensed to fly single-engine aircraft and passed his most recent annual physical in July, FAA records show.
According to FlightAware.com, a website that tracks aircraft in flight, the Cherokee left Chennault International Airport in Lake Charles, La., at 12:23 p.m. Thursday, arriving Thursday night at Henderson Executive Airport .
The couples were likely headed back to Louisiana on Monday morning. Cawthra said the flight was to take them in a southeast direction, and their luggage was on board.
Cawthra said the plane took off to the north but turned to the northwest at an altitude of 200 feet. The plane then descended below the view of witnesses.
FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said the pilot tried to return to the airport but crashed at 8:15 a.m. The plane broke up on impact and caught fire, leaving a debris field a block long. One wing ended up in the backyard of a home, police said.
Las Vegas police spokesman Joe Ojeda said residents of the neighborhood had extinguished the flames by the time responders arrived. Many said they were grateful to Touchet, whom they credit with avoiding houses in his final moments of flight.
"It looked like he did try to make some kind of evasive maneuver," said Ojeda, adding that the crash could have been much worse given the proximity of houses and residents. "It turned out as best as it could for a situation like this."
Sharon Odiam-Lasiter, who has lived at 411 Morning Mauve Ave. for the past decade, considers the pilot a hero.
"To land that in the street like that -- what a blessing," she said. "It could have been so much worse."
Odiam-Lasiter also credits her neighbors with saving the lives of the three survivors by quickly coming to their aid.
The woman said she and her husband did not hear the crash but saw the smoke.
"It got dark all the sudden," she said.
They then smelled the smoke, prompting Odiam-Lasiter to walk down the street, where she saw emergency personnel pulling a man and a woman from the plane's wreckage and performing chest compressions on the man, whom she believed to be the pilot.
"I knew he was in bad shape," Odiam-Lasiter said.
She said she never heard either of the victims make a sound.
She said emergency vehicles soon filled the neighborhood, which she described as usually "very quiet."
Bruno Cok, who lives at 451 Morning Mauve Ave., said he was watching television at the time of the crash and heard nothing unusual. He went outside after hearing sirens.
"Unbelievable," he said Monday afternoon as he stood outside his home. "Too bad one person died."
Claudia Melchor, who lives on nearby Whispa Court, was talking with her husband in bed while her two sons slept Monday morning. When she heard what sounded like an explosion, she ran to check on the boys, ages 7 and 9.
Melchor said she could see nothing from her windows, so she ran outside to the "shocking" sight of the burning wreckage.
"All the neighbors helped to calm the flames," she said.
Melchor said she saw the man and the woman who had escaped the wreckage and went to check on them, finding that they were having trouble breathing.
Vicki Groenert, who has lived on nearby Princess Cut Street for 10 years, said she has been concerned about the increasing number of low-flying planes she has seen over her neighborhood. She believes they come from both McCarran International Airport and the Henderson airport.
"I can be sunbathing in my pool and look up and see a commercial plane and tell you every rivet that's on it," she said.
Groenert said it was only a matter of time before a tragedy.
"This could have very easily hit the apartments over there, and there would be more casualties," she said.
Downs, who was home with her younger brother for the Labor Day holiday, was trying to decide whether she wanted to wake up when her house on Clover Field Court began shaking. Both her parents already had left for work.
The teenager said she heard a "pop," followed by the crackling sounds of a fire.
"This sounds pretty serious," she recalled thinking. "Then I heard a woman shriek."
Her father, Scott Simons, said he had left for work a few minutes before receiving a call from his daughter, who told him about the crash. He warned her not to be a hero.
"I didn't want her over there dragging anybody out of the plane," he said. "She's 16."
Simons immediately returned to the area and climbed over a wall to get back to his neighborhood, which police had cordoned off, to check on his children.
Downs said she couldn't just stand by without trying to help.
"It was really an amazing thing today," she said. "I can't believe it really happened."
Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 384-8710.
Reporter Alan Choate contributed to this story.