A pilot died Sunday when a single-engine plane attempting to pick up a banner at the Compton/Woodley Airport crashed, prompting a closure of the area, officials said.
The plane crashed at the airport, located at 901 West Alondra Blvd. (map), for unknown reasons around 12:35 p.m., said Sgt. Ron Reynolds with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Compton Station.
The single-engine, banner-towing aircraft was the only plane involved, officials said.
Carlton McMiller, a retired firefighter, said he and another person attempted to help the pilot, who was still alive in the immediate aftermath of the crash.
"He was sort of hollering … 'Somebody help me,'" McMiller said. "The wings, where the gas was, and the motor, was still hot. It just ignited and that was it."
The pilot had made a distress call before the disaster, according to a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board.
"He reported on the radio that he was unable to climb," said Patrick H. Jones, an NTSB air safety inspector.
The Federal Aviation Administration was also investigating the incident.
Banner planes typically take off without the banner, then circle back to the airport and are aligned between two poles, between which the banner is suspended, according to pilots at scene. When executed properly, the plane hooks onto a rope and pulls the banner into the air.
Before Sunday's crash, the pilot "missed the banner six times, and then on the seventh approach, when he finally hooked the banner … that's when everything just went bad," said witness Enkone Williams.
Banner-tow operations occur regularly throughout the region, said Dennis Lord of the Los Angeles County Aviation Commission, adding that serious incidents are rare.
"I just hope that we can create some peace for the family and move forward," Lord said.
The airport was closed after the crash and it was not known when it would reopen, Reynolds said.