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Three Tesla employees dead in Palo Alto plane crash — CEO Musk, execs not involved

[Update: Senior electrical engineer and plane owner Doug Bourn, electrical engineer Andrew Ingram and senior manager Brian Finn have been identified as the passengers on the plane by sources close to the company. We are still awaiting confirmation from Tesla Motors or the East Palo Alto Police Department.

NBC Bay Area has published a letter of remembrance from one of Bourn's friends, also suggesting that he was involved. You can read the letter at the bottom of this page.

A Menlo Park fire official told the San Francisco Chronicle that "the plane, taking off in a thick fog, clipped power lines connected to a 100-foot-tall tower at 7:55 a.m. and plummeted in several pieces onto a home day-care center, other houses and vehicles on Beech Street" in East Palo Alto.

Initial reports that all three passengers were top executives at the company were inaccurate. None of them are listed on the company's 13-person executive team page. Other news outlets have taken this to mean that Tesla's recent $100 million IPO filing and development of its highly-anticipated Model S electric sedan will forge ahead unchanged.

It has been confirmed that CEO Elon Musk was not involved in the crash.

The plane's passengers may have been on their way to meet with Musk on the site of his spacecraft manufacturing firm SpaceX, according to another source. Musk told Fox News that this is the "worst day in Tesla history."

The East Palo Alto Police Department says that the crash is now officially under the jurisdiction of the National Transportation Safety Board. The agency is flying a representative to Palo Alto from Seattle right now. He is expected to deliver a statement after 3 p.m. about the cause of the accident. Tesla has not specified a time for its public statement.]

A small passenger plane piloted by a top executive at Tesla Motors crashed into a house in East Palo Alto, Calif. before 8 a.m. this morning, killing the pilot and two other passengers — all employees at the electric car company, which Tesla has confirmed. No names have been released, but the company says an official statement will be released later today.

Identified as a 1976 twin-engine Cessna 310, the plane took off from Palo Alto’s tiny commuter airport and was on its way to Hawthorne Municipal Airport outside Los Angeles. It didn’t get far, crashing into electric power lines and exploding in the nearby neighborhood only minutes later. Observers at the scene remarked that the fog was particularly heavy over the region today.

The plane, said to be owned by Tesla senior electrical engineer Doug Bourn, was registered to Air Unique, his jet company in Santa Clara, Calif.

The accident has caused a city-wide blackout for the last several hours, but no other fatalities or injuries have been reported. Water and phone outages have also been reported by residents. The two houses affected by the crash caught fire, and three nearby vehicles were completely destroyed. Palo Alto-headquartered Facebook says the outage impacted its operations earlier today, and Stanford Hospital buildings are running on emergency generators.

Notably, the Hawthorne airport is also the site of  SpaceX, the spaceship manufacturing company owned and operated by Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk. The company is preparing for a March 22 test launch of its Falcon 9 cargo space vehicle, which could be used to supply the International Space Station as soon as next year. A lot is riding on the craft’s success, considering how much emphasis President Barack Obama has placed on outsourcing space programs to private companies.

Our source mentioned that the plane’s passengers may have been flying to meet with Musk, who is in Southern California working at SpaceX, where he has been spending more time and attention recently. Hawthorne is also home to a small Tesla design studio, as indicated in the company’s recent filing to go public.

One of the two houses the plane struck doubles as a daycare center for more than 20 local children but was fortunately empty at the time of the crash.

This was supposed to be a happy day for the electric car startup, with Musk receiving the 2010 Automotive Executive of the Year Innovator Award from DNV Certification.

As automotive blog Jalopnik points out, Tesla Motors and Musk in particular recently took a lot of heat over private plane travel. Just last week, it came out that Musk had Tesla reimburse him for 12 trips on his own jet, amounting to $175,000.

We will update this story as more details become available.

[Image via LALate News]