Five people were killed when a single-engine plane out of San Jose crashed into an almond orchard southwest of Bakersfield, just six days before Christmas, authorities said Sunday.

The plane was en route to Henderson, Nev., Saturday afternoon when it went down, claiming the lives of all those on board, according to the Federal Aviation Administration and Kern County Sheriff’s Office.

The identities of the victims had not been released Sunday evening. They were believed to be from the Bay Area.

The National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration were at the scene, in the area of Panama Lane and Allen Road, Sunday morning beginning their investigation into the cause of the crash, said sheriff’s Sgt. Mark King.

Overnight, searchers located five victims and the coroner’s office recovered their bodies, King said. Coroner’s officials were in the process of identifying them to notify next of kin Sunday.

The debris field was extensive, about a quarter-mile long going north-south, King said.

“It’s a sad story,” he said, noting so many were killed so close to the holidays.

The Piper PA32 disappeared off radar about 10 miles south of Bakersfield around 4 p.m. Saturday while flying from Reid-Hillview Airport in San Jose to Henderson Executive Airport outside Las Vegas, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said.

He identified the aircraft tail number as N36402. FAA records show the registered owner to be Rad Aviation LLC out of San Jose. 

At about 4:26 p.m. Saturday, a Los Angeles air traffic control tower received a distress call from an aircraft that may have crashed near Panama Lane and South Allen Road, according to a sheriff’s news release.

The Sheriff’s Office, Bakersfield Police Department, California Highway Patrol and Kern County Fire Department responded to the area and conducted a ground search, the release said. The wreckage was found three hours later.

An NTSB investigator and two FAA inspectors were at the crash site Sunday, Gregor said. They identified the downed aircraft as a single-engine, seven-passenger airplane.

“The NTSB is in charge of the investigation,” he said. “It typically takes the agency months if not longer to determine a probable cause for an accident.”

It was unclear if weather was a contributing factor. Around the time of the crash, light rain and mist were observed at Meadows Field and visibility was four miles, said Cindy Bean of the National Weather Service in Hanford.

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