Authorities said the single-engine Beechcraft Musketeer was attempting to land on a surface street in Newport Beach, but it landed in the water at about 5:45 p.m., killing the plane's owner, 58-year-old Charles Chambers of Palos Verdes Estates, and his two passengers, 63-year-old Russell Urban of Rancho Palos Verdes and 44-year-old Sean Kelly of Hermosa Beach.
The pilot radioed the tower at John Wayne Airport, telling officials they needed to make an emergency landing. Police started to clear Newport Center Drive, but the plane went down in the Back Bay.
A firefighter said he saw the plane in distress before it went down.
"He witnessed the aircraft, he told me it was about 50 feet off the ground," said Newport Beach Fire Department Division Chief Paul Matheis. "He said it clearly was in trouble."
Rescue crews arrived on scene to find the plane upside down. They waded through the knee-deep water and pulled the victims from the wreckage of the plane.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the accident. It will likely be several weeks before a preliminary cause is determined.
According to his website, Chambers was a longtime real estate agent based in the South Bay. He leaves behind a wife and daughter.