Small Plane Crashes on 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills; Lanes Fully Reopen: CHP

The northbound lanes of the 101 Freeway fully reopened late Tuesday night, hours after a small plane crashed near the center divider in Agoura Hills.

Crews were still working to clear wreckage from the freeway after 10 p.m. — cutting the plane into pieces and placing them on a trailer to be hauled off for further investigation — but by 11 p.m. officials were clearing cones from the freeway so traffic could pass through.

Officials initially shut down all lanes near Liberty Canyon Road immediately following the crash, and many on both sides of the freeway had remained closed after 8 p.m.

The pilot of the plane issued an emergency alert at around 1:45 p.m. when he lost power after taking off from Van Nuys Airport, California Highway Patrol Capt. Johnny Starling told KTLA.

"He heard a couple of loud pops in the engine...He was able to control it and was trying to land on the 101 Freeway but there was a car in front of him," Starling said. "So as he landed, touched down, he had to jerk the wheel hard to the left to avoid the vehicle. That’s when he crashed into the center divider."

Crews responded to the incident just before 2 p.m., according to the L.A. County Fire Department.

The pilot was removed from the aircraft, and no other vehicles were involved, the agency said. Footage from the scene shows firefighters extinguishing flames that consumed the body of the plane.

According to CHP, the pilot, who has 30 years of experience and flies for commercial airlines, walked away having only singed his hair from the fire.

An aviation source provided KTLA with the suspected tail number of the aircraft, which matched the Federal Aviation Administration record for a fixed-wing single-engine plane registered to Condor Squadron, a Van Nuys-based group that flies restored World War II-era aircraft.

The club's president, Christopher Rushing, confirmed the association and identified the pilot as Rob Sandberg.

Rushing said he was relieved Sandberg was OK, and that the pilot "obviously had a catastrophic failure and had to put it down on the 101."

Starling said the 101 Freeway was actually a good location to land, as long as there's no rush hour traffic.

“I think he made a good choice," the captain told KTLA.

Video shows traffic had been backed up for miles on the northbound side of the 101.

The aircraft is a T-6 Texan from North American Aviation, a trainer plane that is popular in airshows. The FAA registry for the tail number describes the plane as a 1958 SNJ-5, which is a modified T-6 Texan.

The plane appeared to have been painted in camouflage, with black-and-white crosses on its wings in the manner of a World War II German fighter aircraft.

When KTLA profiled the aviation group in 2012, Sandberg said in an interview that he was interested in vintage airplanes because his father flew in World War II.

"I'm one of many generations that literally has sat in that seat, and it's an honor, really, and a privilege to be able to do that," he said.

Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board responded to the incident and would be assuming control of the investigation.

KTLA's Meghan McMonigle, Steve Granado, Matt Phillips and Melissa Pamer contributed to this report.