SANTA CLARITA – A veteran pilot was killed Saturday when his homemade airplane crashed near the northbound Antelope Valley (14) Freeway at Newhall Avenue in Santa Clarita, authorities said.
The Los Angeles County Fire Department was dispatched to the scene around 10:12 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 4, and reported at 10:28 a.m. that it was a single-engine plane.
“The plane is on fire,” a fire department dispatcher said at the time.
The department later said the aircraft was completely destroyed. The fire was reported out by 11 a.m.
The plane crashed about five miles north of Van Nuys Airport, according to FAA spokesman Ian Gregor.
“The plane departed from Van Nuys Airport,” he said. “I don’t know the destination
It was described as a “homebuilt TM-1 Thunder Mustang,” Gregor said.
The Thunder Mustang is a three-quarter scale replica of a P-51 Mustang, a US World War II-era fighter plane, aviation experts said. Any homebuilt aircraft must be inspected by the FAA for airworthiness before its first flight like any general aviation aircraft, according to FAA regulations.
Courtney Gonzales, who was hiking in the area at the time of the crash, told reporters she saw the plane clip a tree and crash near the freeway. ‘The next thing we saw was a big black cloud of smoke,’ she said.
Other witnesses in the area also reported seeing plumes of smoke near the freeway.
The pilot was the sole occupant inside the aircraft when it crashed. No other injuries were reported.
The pilot’s name has not been released, but several aviation publications said he had been flying since the mid-1970s, was based at Van Nuys Airport and had more than 4,000 hours of flying time in aircraft similar to the one that crashed.
Jennifer Pearl, one of the pilot’s friends, told reporters she heard his distress call, which was later posted on Twitter, where he can be heard complaining of visibility problems in the plane immediately prior to the crash.
Pearl described him as a “sweet and loving man” who was very active in the aviation community, and said his death was a “big loss.”
UPDATE: The pilot has been identified as Wayne Richards, 73, of Van Nuys, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office.