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Two dead after midair plane collision causes fiery crash, brushfire

Three people suffer minor injuries and a small brush fire sparks after two planes apparently collide midair over the Malibu Creek State Park

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Posted: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 7:00 am

Two people were killed and three others suffered minor injuries Monday afternoon when two planes collided in the skies near Malibu Creek State Park, causing one plane to crash-land into a mountainside near Calabasas and the other to make an emergency landing on a golf course in Westlake Village. Debris from the crash is believed to have sparked a one-acre brushfire in a remote area off of Mulholland Highway and Las Virgenes Road.

The planes collided midair eight miles northeast of Ventura near Calabasas at 2:01 p.m., according to Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer.

“One target went down immediately [in Westlake], the other target drifted off west before dropping off the radar scope [near Calabasas],” National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Howard Plagens said at a press conference Tuesday.

The first plane, a Cessna 172, was traveling westbound at approximately 3,500 feet.  Both planes took off from Santa Monica Airport, the first at 1:40 p.m. and the second at 1:53 p.m. The second plane, also a Cessna 172, was making an engine test flight headed toward Camarillo, Plagens said.  The first plane landed hard on the third fairway of the Westlake Village Golf Course.  The second plane’s fiery crash on a steep grading dented the mountainous terrain in Malibu Creek State Park, according to officials.

"The plane apparently… came down and hit directly on the grade and then created a small crater,” Los Angeles County Sheriff ’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said.  “Parts of the plane actually jumped back out."

The identities of the two deceased victims have not been released. The pilot’s remains were discovered late Monday among the Cessna’s charred remains. Officials did not discover the second victim’s remains until Tuesday morning. 

The golf course is about five miles northwest of the area near Las Virgenes Road and Mulholland Highway where the second plane crash-landed. As of Tuesday, officials from the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) were still scouring the scene and investigating the causeof Tuesday’s deadly crash. 

NTSB officials said they were also interviewing the three survivors from the first plane but did not disclose further details at Tuesday’s press conference. All three survivors were certified flight instructors, according to officials. They were taken to a local hospital and treated for minor injuries.

John Payne, a local retired Navy Captain and commercially licensed pilot, said that type of hard landing is difficult to pull off for any pilot.

“Whoever landed that airplane, they did a very nice job of getting it on the ground,” he said.

Payne said the midair collision was a rarity for small, lowflying planes.

“It is so unusual for two airplanes to collide with each other, [like these did], it’s difficult even if you aimed an airplane at another one,” Payne said.

Reports of the brushfire came in just after 2 p.m. on Monday, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department. The brushfire broke out in an “inaccessible” portion of a canyon near Mulholland Highway and Las Virgenes Road. Three helicopters made up the bulk of the fight to douse the flames in heavy brush. Ground crews had to hike approximately 150 yards to get to the fire, L.A. County Fire Department spokesman Qvondo Johnson said. Fire crews spotted debris at the scene of the fire. 

The fire was fully contained by 6:15 p.m., but caused traffic delays into the evening on Mulholland Highway.

With a red flag warning going into effect Wednesday night in the Santa Monica Mountains, L.A. County fire officials said their crews would remain on scene until the plane’s wreckage is removed.

“Fire activity is completely out, but when you’re moving heavy equipment and aircraft wreckage, there’s always chance for ignition,” said Inspector Tony Imbrenda. “Since we have fire weather moving in for the next couple of nights, we’ll be there to help monitor for hot spots.”

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  • Whaler31 posted at 5:19 pm on Wed, May 1, 2013.

    Whaler31 Posts: 21

    How many more of these mid-air collisions do we need?

    A lot of people are too young to remember the Cessna 172, that collided with Boeing 727 (PSA Flt.#182)on final into Lindbergh Field in San Diego in 1978, killing everybody on both planes, and people on the ground.

    The Cessna in that crash, had a student and an instructor on board, on a clear, sunny day. He had the student wearing a blinder hood, for instrument training, as they flew right across the final path of the 727.

    This accident was responsible for creating "TRACON" (Terminal Radar Approach Control) system, where all close-in air traffic, is handled by the FAA's radar facilities (Located in Palmdale, CA, for LAX, BUR, LGB, SMO, and VNY, air traffic.) This was a major safety improvement for the flying public.

    I think ACARS (Aircraft Collision Avoidance System) or a similar system, needs to be mandatory equipment, for all small planes. This type of accident could also happen between a bigger aircraft, which would be devastating if it hit people, and/or structures on the ground. This system alerts the pilots to a potential collision, and gives the directions to avoid one, using on-board radar.

    With so many private jets flying around the L.A. basin and Santa Monica Bay these days, and a lot of them are big jets. I am sure people who fly commercial in and out would feel a little safer!

  • jjj posted at 8:34 am on Wed, May 1, 2013.

    jjj Posts: 410

    As a pilot and a resident of this area, It blows me away that both pilots were not paying attention. As Pilot in Command, and having passengers, your responsibility is to continue to scan the sky. When I fly, even if I have a passenger that is not a pilot, I always tell them four eyes on the horizon is better than two.

    What in the world were two pilots looking at? This is negligence in the purest form. It is unfortunate that tragedy had to occur. Thank God that no other fatalities on the ground occurred.

  • bu posted at 12:18 pm on Tue, Apr 30, 2013.

    bu Posts: 12

    amazing no one on the ground hurt...that could have easily been on PCH or the 405...or any where residential ....