WATSONVILLE (CBS SF) — The Santa Cruz man flying a small plane that crashed in Watsonville earlier this month had had his flying license for less than four months at the time of the accident, according to a preliminary report released Thursday.

A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board indicates that pilot David Houghton, 44, had received his private pilot’s license on March 17. He had accrued about 140 hours of flight time, including his flight training for his pilot certificate, at the time of the July 7 crash.

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Houghton and his wife, Dede Houghton, 44, were traveling to meet relatives in Groveland (Tuolumne County), with their two children, 12-year-old Luke and 10-year-old Ryan, when the 7:20 p.m. crash occurred.

Witnesses told investigators that the plane, a 1974 single-engine Mooney M20F that Houghton had purchased with another person in November 2010, appeared to be climbing steeply after takeoff, the NTSB report said.

About 500 feet off the ground, the plane began to roll until it was nearly inverted and the nose dropped. The plane descended rapidly and completed about two tight turns or spirals, then appeared to begin to recover before it disappeared behind the trees.

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The plane struck a parking lot on the Watsonville Community Hospital campus, slid about 130 feet forward and hit the medical office building. The crash damaged the building and started a fire that consumed portions of the badly damaged plane.

Marks left in the pavement by the propeller indicated the engine was developing power at the time of the crash.

The entire Houghton family was killed. No one in the medical office building or parking lot was injured, and the hospital remained open during the crash and subsequent fire.

There were clear skies at the time of the crash over the airport, with low clouds southwest of the airport. Houghton checked weather briefings twice the day of the fatal flight, the report said.

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