The pilot of a small-engine aircraft who died after crashing near the 14 Freeway in Santa Clarita on Saturday morning is being remembered as a beloved member of the local aviation community.
Officials have not released his name, but friends identified the pilot as Wayne Richards. The aircraft, a home-built TM-1 Thunder Mustang, was registered under his name.
“Very sweet, very loving and very active in the community,” Jennifer Pearl said of her fellow pilot. “It’s a big loss.”
He was the only occupant of the plane that plummeted near the Newhall Avenue off-ramp just after 10 a.m. Saturday, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department. The aircraft had taken off from Van Nuys Airport, according to the FAA.
The incident triggered a 25-hour long closure of the northbound 14 Freeway and the Newhall Avenue on- and off-ramps.
The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board have launched a probe into what caused the aircraft to crash, but the answer likely won’t be determined for months.
In an emergency call with an air traffic controller, the pilot indicated that he had low visibility and that he intended to land. Conditions in the area were clear at the time.
No injuries or damages on the ground were reported in the crash, which was witnessed by many people.
“He had flames coming out of his motor… It looked like he was trying to land it. Once he impacted, I heard a loud bang and then a fireball, and that was it,” said Brett Fox, who was cycling in the area when the incident happened.
Courtney Gonzales said she was hiking when she saw the aircraft drop and hit a tree before crashing.
“The next thing we saw was a big, black cloud of smoke,” she told KTLA.