A pilot was seriously injured when his single-engine airplane crashed at the east end of Santa Monica Airport and skidded off the runway shortly after takeoff Sunday afternoon, August 2nd.
Some airport neighbors described hearing the Long-EZ propeller plane sputtering before it came down, inciting a sense that the aircraft was doomed and fears that it might crash into nearby homes. Lynn Barker, who lives near the end of the airport on Warren Avenue, recalled sitting in her backyard when she heard the plane appear to be in trouble.
“I heard the plane above us sputtering and I thought, ‘my God that plane is in trouble.’ Then I heard it cut out completely and I was thinking it was going to crash any minute,” said Barker, who has lived near the airport for seven years.
She said she didn’t hear any noise from the crash but saw the wreckage at the airport, where she took some photos.
The airplane had departed Santa Monica Airport at about 2:45 p.m. for a local flight, but immediately after takeoff the pilot reported a loss of engine power, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) spokesman Ian Gregor said. The pilot turned around and attempted to land back at the airport but the plane crashed upon landing and skidded off the runway, Gregor said.
Airport administrator Rod Merl said the plane, which is based out of the airport, came to rest in the infield area between the runway and taxiway. The aircraft was destroyed but it did not catch fire.
“He came down pretty hard,” Merl said.
Santa Monica firefighters applied a flame retardant foam as a precaution and extricated the pilot, identified as William Davenport of Los Angeles, from the wreckage. Davenport was transported to a local hospital where he was treated for injuries including a broken leg, Gregor said.
No other passengers were on board and no other damages occurred on the ground.
The runway was closed following the crash until about 8 p.m. to allow crews to clear the scene of debris. The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the accident.
Barker said after hearing the plane lose engine power, she and some of her neighbors were initially worried that it could strike homes.
“We thought it was going to crash into our houses; it was very scary,” she remembered.
Residents say they are thankful that the pilot was not killed. Barker added that the pilot appeared to be experienced based on the way he handled the emergency and guided the plane back toward the runway.
While some neighbors feared that the airplane could crash into surrounding homes, Merl noted that it came down completely within the airfield.
It was the second crash at Santa Monica Airport this year. Two men were killed in January when a single engine plane lost power shortly after takeoff and crashed into the airport runway.
Santa Monica and Mar Vista residents have for years voiced concerns that no safety zones exist at the Santa Monica Airport runway, which is located within 300 feet of homes. They argue that the airport was not designed to accommodate the fastest type of jets that now take off from the airfield.
Resident Ellen Mark, who has lived near the airport for ten years, noted that she has seen an increase in the number of jets taking off from there.
“There’s been a definite increase with the jets and with that increase, we’ve become more aware of the issue,” she said. “This runway is too short for the size plane that is taking off.”
The City of Santa Monica and FAA are within an ongoing court battle over an ordinance that would ban C and D, or the fastest type jets, from using the facility. A recent decision sided with the FAA saying Santa Monica could not enforce the law, but the city plans to fight the ruling.
The August 2nd crash did not involve a jet, but residents say such incidents reemphasize concerns that a larger plane could one day be involved.
“Although this unfortunate accident involved a slower class type aircraft than the faster C and D class aircraft Santa Monica wants banned from using Santa Monica Airport, it does not affect the probability that a C or D aircraft will eventually be involved in an accident coming into or leaving SMO,” Marty Rubin of the Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution said in a statement.