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Family deals with octogenarian intruder

A Cessna aircraft damaged the roof to the Welz family home in Corona, Calif. (Courtesy photo)

A Cessna aircraft damaged the roof to the Welz family home in Corona, Calif. (Courtesy photo)

MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, CAlif. -- Mackenzie Welz and her cousin Carrie Hale had just settled down to watch a movie at the Welz house in Corona, Calif., when an unexpected visitor dropped in July 11.

"It sounded like big rocks being thrown over the house," Mackenzie said. "I thought it was an earthquake at first, and my cousin thought it was a car that had crashed into the hill behind our house."

A small Cessna plane left four holes in the roof as it skipped across, barely missing the chimney After slipping off the roof, the plane hit a tree just beyond the Welz' fence, tearing off one of its wings.

Miraculously, the 83-year-old pilot walked away with only cuts and bruises.

As soon as Mackenzie figured out what had happened, she called her parents, Richard and Linda Welz, and her cousin ran outside with a video camera.

Master Sgt. Linda Welz is superintendent of public affairs at Headquarters 4th Air Force, March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, Calif. She and her husband were away from the house at the time of the crash.

"I was just arriving at our church for a play that I was in and I answered the phone," said Sergeant Welz. "My husband said, 'You have to go home! A plane just hit our house!' I ran inside to tell the people that I had to leave. I ran back outside and in all the excitement, my car was locked and the keys were in it."

Sergeant Welz borrowed a friend's car at the church to get home. In the meantime, she called her aunt and mother and asked them to go to her house since they were closer and would arrive sooner.

"Before they arrived, their first thought was that it was a military plane because (I'm) in the military," Sergeant Welz said. "We had no information on anything because everything happened so quickly. Until I was able to talk to my niece, I didn't know that it was just a single-engine Cessna."

Over the phone, Sergeant Welz instructed her daughter to put their cats in carriers, leash the dogs and take them across the street to the park.

"She did a very, very good job, especially being as scared as she was," the sergeant said. "She got those animals and even thought enough to put some food in the cages. I was very proud of her."

When Sergeant Welz got home, she found neighbors and news media parked in front of her house and the plane laying face up, half on the sidewalk and half in the brush.

"Things can happen so quickly that you just have to be thankful for every moment that you have because you never know when you're not going to have it anymore," Sergeant Welz said. "Material things can be replaced, but those you love and care for can't. I thank God that he took care of my kids and that there was no tragedy that day."

The pilot was taken to the hospital by the time Sergeant Welz got home.

"My neighbors pulled him out, and he was able to walk across the street with help," she said. "He just sat down and waited for the ambulance."

Sergeant Welz spoke with the pilot two days after the crash.

"He said he lost power and did everything he could to avoid hitting our house, but he just had no more lift," she said.

The plane crash wasn't the first close call at the Welz home. Last year while watering plants in the backyard, Sergeant Welz discovered a 5-foot rattlesnake only inches from her hand.

The family has also discovered three poisonous scorpions near the house. And then there were the wildfires.

"Because we live in an extreme high fire area, we decided that with all these things that have happened in less than a year, we need to be prepared to leave immediately should there be a fire and that we should practice that drill," said Sergeant Welz." It's definitely something we need to do as soon as possible since we're in the fire season now."

One week after the crash, Mackenzie was still nervous about going in some parts of the house, the kitchen in particular, since it had the largest hole in the roof.

In fact the whole Welz family is more aware of planes flying overhead.

They ponder the coincidental chain of events that could have resulted in a much graver outcome.

"We have a spa in our backyard. All winter long it had been drained, and I had just filled it and put the chemicals in it and got it all adjusted and got the temperature up and took the cover off if it," said Sergeant Welz.

"I told the girls before I left that they could go in the spa that day," she explained. "The spa sits right under the portion of the roof that the plane bounced off of, and the roof tiles shot out with such force that they put holes in the vinyl fence at the back of the house. A bunch of them shot right into the spa, and you can feel the damage all along the fiberglass. The spa is just covered with roof tiles and grit and sand. Had the girls been in there, they would have been hurt."

The family wasn't allowed to sleep in the house the night of the accident because investigators still needed to collect data and ensure the safety of the site.

The Welz' insurance company came out the day of the crash. Repairs will be made after the required estimates, inspections and permits have been completed.

The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration will also complete an investigation to determine if the crash was caused by mechanical error, pilot error or a combination of both. (Air Force Reserve Command News Service)