Concerns of aircraft flying over residential neighborhoods as they depart from or land at Santa Monica Airport were recently re-affirmed by some local residents after a small plane crashed at a nearby golf course, killing the pilot.
The single-engine Cessna 152 had just taken off from Santa Monica Airport when it crashed near the eighth hole of the Penmar Golf Course in Venice shortly after 6 p.m. Thursday, July 1, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said.
Pilot Robert Davenport, 60, of Los Angeles, who was practicing take-offs and landings and was the only person on board the airplane, was pronounced dead at the scene, said Tealeye Cornejo, National Transportation Safety Board air safety investigator. No one on the ground was injured, fire officials said.
The heavily damaged aircraft, which Cornejo said was registered out of Santa Monica Airport, did not catch fire upon impact and leaked only a small amount of fuel, fire officials said. Damage to the golf course, which consisted mostly of broken tree branches, was estimated at $1,000, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department, which responded to the scene.
The NTSB has not confirmed if the airplane experienced engine trouble following take-off and is investigating the cause of the fatal crash, Cornejo said.
The nine-hole golf course remained open the following day, when some golfers who had just finished their round said they are used to planes flying over the course and were not fazed by what happened the previous evening. Pat Evinger, a staff member at the course, noted how flights over the area are a regular occurrence and said that despite the fatal accident, employees are not concerned about the possibility of planes crashing into the course.
Asked if the potential for a plane crash has had an impact on his desire to play at the neighborhood course, golfer Jeff Johnson of Los Angeles jokingly responded, “We’re golfers, man, come on!; it could be snowing out here and we’d play.”
Another course regular, Dave Steadman, who recalled how a plane had experienced engine trouble and was forced to land on a course fairway about 10 years ago, said it has been a concern of his that a plane could come down while golfers are playing.
Steadman’s concern has been a similar issue for residents in the surrounding neighborhoods where some homes are located 300 feet from the end of the airport runway with no buffer zone. Residents said while they were saddened by the death of Davenport, they were grateful that the plane did not crash into neighboring homes or injure anyone on the ground.
“People who live in the area are concerned when something like this happens because they think ‘what if it fell on my house?’” said Santa Monica resident Kathy Larson, a member of the group Friends of Sunset Park who said she was at home at the time of the crash but did not witness it.
Bill Koontz, co-chair of the Mar Vista Community Council’s Santa Monica Airport Committee, said the news of the crash made him instantly saddened, grateful and angry.
“I was saddened due to the loss of life, grateful that the plane crashed into the golf course and not a neighborhood and angry that this keeps on happening. It seems as though a small plane crashes near the airport every year or so,” said Koontz, who was also at home during the crash but did not hear anything.
“It is exactly tragedies like this that make the residents take stock of how important this airport is to the region versus the probability that a plane will drop onto their house.”
In response to reports that Davenport was a student pilot, the neighborhood group Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution is calling on the City of Santa Monica and the FAA to ban the practice of touch-and-go training by flight schools at the airport.
“It is reckless to allow students to practice take-offs and landings over a densely populated area. Schools for pilots should be located in an area that minimizes every safety risk,” said Martin Rubin, director of the neighborhood group.
But Cornejo of NTSB, who is investigating the crash, said while Davenport was practicing take-offs and landings, investigators believe he was a commercial pilot and not a student.
In a letter to FAA Administrator J. Randolph Babbitt, Congresswoman Jane Harman also responded to reports that Davenport was a student pilot and concerns that flight schools are performing training procedures over surrounding neighborhoods.
“The fact that the pilot was a student raises concerns about flight schools adding another unnecessary layer of risk,” Harman wrote. “The pilot who died last week was performing touch and go landings when he crashed.
“So once again I urge you to investigate this tragedy through the lens of overall safety at SMO.”