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Three Tesla employees dead in small plane crash

By Jim Christie and Poornima Gupta

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A small airplane crashed and killed three Tesla Motors employees in northern California on Wednesday, the electric car maker's chief executive said.

A Cessna 310 struck an electrical tower after taking off on Wednesday morning, crashed into a residential neighborhood and killed all three people on board, according to local police. Tesla confirmed all had worked at the car company.

Tesla is withholding the employees' names while it works with authorities to notify their families, Chief Executive Elon Musk said.

"Tesla is a small, tightly-knit company, and this is a tragic day for us," Musk said.

Tesla, a six-year-old start-up, is one of the best-known companies in the emerging electric car industry, which is growing as more people seek "clean energy" alternatives in their daily lives.

Hollywood stars drive its stylish sports cars, and investors are eager to cash in on its Silicon Valley cachet.

Tesla filed for an initial public offering of up to $100 million last month. The company was co-founded by and is currently run by Musk, an entrepreneur who made his fortune as co-founder of online payments service provider PayPal.

Musk frequently travels in a private jet on Tesla business.

The three employees were mid-level engineers, said a person familiar with the matter, who was not authorized to give out details about the fatalities.

The plane was registered to Air Unique Inc in Santa Clara, California. Air Unique was registered with Tesla engineer Doug Bourn.

The plane left the Palo Alto Airport at about 7 a.m. PST (1500 GMT), bound for Hawthorne Municipal Airport in Southern California. It lost power before striking the tower, breaking off a wing, East Palo Alto Police Department Captain John Chalmers said.

The wing hit a house, causing a fire. The rest of the aircraft struck parked vehicles, Chalmers said. There were no reports of injuries on the ground, Chalmers said.

(Reporting by Jim Christie and Poornima Gupta in San Francisco. Additional reporting by Kevin Krolicki in Detroit; Editing by Philip Barbara and Robert MacMillan)

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